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Gates or Germany? Who “Owns” the WHO’s Covid-19 Response?

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The idea that Bill Gates is somehow the driving force behind the WHO’s vaccine-centric Covid-19 response is very widespread – at least on Twitter. But this notion recently received some unexpected support from a mainstream media source: Politico, the online news service that was started in DC in the naughts, launched a Brussels-based European edition in partnership with the German media giant Springer in 2015, and was fully acquired by the German firm last year. 

Citing anonymous sources and tossing out astronomic, but largely undocumented, funding figures, a massive, meandering “investigation” by Politico and Springer’s flagship German broadsheet, Die Welt, claimed to show that, just as Twitterers have suspected, it is Bill Gates and his “network” of organizations that have “controlled” the world’s Covid-19 response, after all.

The Springer/Politico “investigation” focuses, in particular, on the alleged influence of Gates and his “network” over the WHO – as well it should, since the WHO has, of course, been the main vector of the coordinated, global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the problem is that an abundance of publicly available information makes unmistakably clear that the driving force behind the WHO’s Covid-19 response is in fact none other than Germany and that – surprisingly in light of the furor over Gates – Gates has in fact played only a very minor role.

This should not in fact be surprising, since the WHO itself has long acknowledged that “Germany is the top supporter of WHO’s COVID-19 response” (see here). But since it appears to have largely escaped notice, let us have a look at the details, starting with the below graph. The graph shows the leading contributors to the WHO’s Covid-19 response budget in the first year of the pandemic, 2020. The official name of the program is the (C19) Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP). The graph was generated directly from the WHO’s own SPRP funding database.

1 - SPRP 2020

As can be seen, Germany was far and away the top contributor. Its $425 million contribution represented more than 30% of the total $1.34 billion effective budget. To put this in perspective, Germany’s 80 million inhabitants represent around 1% of the world’s total population. The European Commission, under the leadership of former German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen, was the 3rd largest contributor, providing $81 million. Germany and the German-dominated EU together thus provided $506 million or over 36% of the C-19 response budget in 2020.

And where was Bill Gates? Or, more exactly, where was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is indeed a major contributor to the WHO in other areas? The below graph shows us: in 18th place in the funding hierarchy, two places behind Yemen.

2 - SPRP 2020 - BMGF

The Gates Foundation’s effective contribution of $14.5 million represented around 1% of the total budget. Germany provided around 30 times more funding. The GAVI alliance, to which we will come momentarily, is even further down the list (30th place at just over $7 million).

The next graph shows the leading contributors to the WHO’s Covid-19 response budget in 2021, the second year of the pandemic and the first of mass vaccination. The story is much the same. Germany is still far and away the top contributor, and its percentage share of the total budget is now even greater.

3 - SPRP 2021

Germany’s $386 million contribution represents nearly 40% of the effective budget. If we add together the German and EU contributions, we arrive at nearly $497 million, representing almost half of the total budget. And where is the Gates Foundation? Still at 18th place, now three places behind Guinea-Bissau! See below.

4 - SPRP 2021 - BMGF

The Gates Foundation’s effective contribution of $6 million represents barely 0.5% of the total budget! Germany’s contribution – $386 million to $6 million – is now no less than 64 times greater!

The above funding figures can be consulted on the WHO website here. Note that the link lands on the current funding year (2022). You need to select the desired SPRP year in the upper left to see previous years. From the current year’s graph, you will see that Germany is on track to continue being the top funder of the Covid response budget, although the USA, whose contributions were previously relatively meager, has now risen to 2nd place. The Gates Foundation has pledged a grand total of $250,000. The German pledge of $352 million is literally over 100 times greater!

But wait a moment. Careful observers will have noted the relatively prominent presence of GAVI, now in 5th place with an effective contribution of $67 million, among the leading contributors in 2021, and GAVI continues to be a major contributor in 2022. So, even if Germany is by far the top contributor and even if the Gates Foundation’s contribution is paltry, Gates involvement is still substantial: namely, via GAVI. The Springer/Politico “investigation” includes GAVI among Gates’s “network” of organizations, after all, and for all intents and purposes, Gates is GAVI. Right?

Well, wrong. This is another widespread misconception, and its frequent repetition on Twitter does not make it any more true. Whatever role Gates played in the founding of the organization, nowadays GAVI receives the bulk of its funding from national governments, not private sources. In particular, as the below funding chart from GAVI’s own website shows, GAVI is in fact receiving more funding from Germany than from the Gates Foundation in the current period.

So, it is obviously bogus to add together Gates Foundation funding and GAVI funding and treat the sum as Gates’s overall contribution, as many proponents of the “Gates-owns-the-WHO” theory tend to do.

Indeed, the Springer/Politico “investigation” pulls the same trick, including $6 billion of GAVI funding in the $10 billion that its “network” of four NGOs allegedly devoted to “Covid-19 efforts” overall. More specifically, the article claims that:

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Gates Foundation, Gavi, and the Wellcome Trust have donated collectively more than $1.4 billion to the WHO — a significantly greater amount than most other official member states, including the United States and the European Commission, according to data provided by the WHO.

This may well be true if we include the current funding year. But how is it relevant given that the main funders of GAVI are precisely those same WHO member states? (I will leave aside the fact that the European Commission is not, of course, a WHO member state. Its contributions, like those of the Gates Foundation, are entirely voluntary.)

Moreover, the Springer/Politico article discreetly refrains from mentioning that Germany’s contribution to the WHO – Germany which, as just noted, is also a major contributor to GAVI – is certainly comparable to and probably indeed exceeds the cited figure.

The WHO’s public funding database gives Germany’s overall contribution to the WHO for the 2020-21 funding period as nearly $1.15 billion. (See here.) Even supposing the aggregate Gates + GAVI + Wellcome figure is somehow relevant, it is less than that at approximately $1.01 billion. (The individual funding figures can be consulted on the WHO website here. The contributions of the Wellcome Trust are relatively insignificant.)

Here, in case it is of interest, are the WHO’s top 5 funders for the 2020-21 period as presented on the WHO website.

But these overall funding figures are not in fact relevant here. What is relevant are the dedicated contributions to the Covid-19 response budget. Since the Springer/Politico article brings up the former in this context, not the latter, one has to wonder if the authors have not in fact attributed the overall Gates Foundation funding to its supposed $1.1 billion contribution to “Covid-19 efforts.” If so, this is a monumental error.

As documented above, the Gates Foundation’s actual contributions to the WHO’s Covid-19 response budget are relatively minor. Including this year’s pledge, they come to a total of around $21 million. Not $1.1 billion!

The great bulk of the Gates Foundation’s contribution to the WHO budget has nothing whatsoever to do with Covid-19. This can be easily verified by consulting the detailed flow chart available on the WHO website here. As can be seen in the below detail from the chart, in the 2020-21 period, nearly 65% of the Gates Foundation funding went rather to polio eradication.

By contrast, over 70% of Germany’s $1.15 billion contribution went to the Covid-19 response (namely, $811 million, as documented above). And if we subtract Germany’s $58 million in assessed contributions from its total contribution, this figure rises to nearly 75%.

Politico’s would-be exposé of Gates funding cites one Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University, who notes, “I think we should be deeply concerned. Putting it in a very crass way, money buys influence.” Perhaps so. But why should this be any less the case of German money? 

Of course, if the money consisted only of assessed contributions, which the country pays as a condition of membership in the organization, then it would indeed be less the case or even not at all. But the German funding obviously did not only consist of assessed contributions. As just noted, Germany’s assessed contributions for the 2020-21 funding period merely came to $58 million. This is to say that 95% of the German funding was every bit as voluntary as the Gates funding.

The below pie chart is taken directly from the WHO website (here). The small greenish-yellow slice represents Germany’s assessed contributions. All the rest is voluntary.

By Contributor

It is also notable that none of Germany’s voluntary contributions are “core” contributions: i.e. contributions to the WHO’s general budget, which the organization can use as it sees fit. They are all earmarked.

Discussion of WHO funding on Twitter and even in more sophisticated venues suffers from a systematic confusion between voluntary contributions and private contributions. As the German example makes clear, voluntary contributions to the WHO do not necessarily come from private sources. Indeed, the great bulk of them come precisely from public sources: i.e. national governments or intergovernmental organizations like the EU.

Knowing this, why should it be assumed that voluntary contributions from private sources, even private charitable sources, are somehow interested, whereas contributions from governments are disinterested?

In light of the funding figures cited above, the obvious question is: Why in fact did Germany suddenly become the top contributor to the WHO with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and why has it been by far the top contributor to the organization’s Covid-19 response budget? Was it merely to save the world? What interest could Germany possibly have had in the Covid-19 response?

Well, once we realize that the so-called “Pfizer” vaccine that has been at the center of this response is in fact owned by the German company BioNTech and that, as documented in my recent Brownstone article here, BioNTech earns far more on global sales of the vaccine than Pfizer, then the interest becomes obvious. 

In 2021, BioNTech’s revenues went from roughly zero to $19 billion, making the company a major driver of German growth. BioNTech earned over $15 billion in profits on those $19 billion in revenues, giving the company a whopping pre-tax profit margin of nearly 80%! BioNTech paid nearly one third of those profits in corporate tax, thus, in effect, making the German federal government and the city of Mainz (where the company pays local taxes) the main stakeholders in the company.

Moreover, Germany did not merely, so to say, get lucky with BioNTech. As detailed in my earlier Brownstone article on the history of BioNTech and the BioNTech-Pfizer partnership here, the German government has been heavily involved in subsidizing and promoting the company right from the start.

Indeed, even from before the start! The German government sponsored the very founding of BioNTech (in 2009) as part of a “Go-Bio” funding program whose express purpose was to make Germany a leader in biotechnologies. Germany also provided the equivalent of $375 million in subsidies to BioNTech specifically to support its Covid-19 vaccine.

These are the kinds of conflicts of interest that would make a private contributor blush. But as a WHO member state, Germany continued to play a leading role in shaping the WHO’s Covid response in venues from which private contributors, like the Gates Foundation, are excluded.

Thus, the committee that was set up already in mid-2020 to evaluate the organization’s ongoing pandemic response – officially known as the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations during COVID-19 – is chaired by none other than Lothar Wieler. Wieler is at the same time the sitting president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI): the German public health authority that plays roughly the same role as the American CDC. See, for instance, Wieler’s statement in this odd dual capacity of WHO committee chair and RKI president here.

Lothar Wieler is undoubtedly the single German official most closely connected to Germany’s own Covid-19 response. To get an idea of the significance of Wieler chairing this key WHO committee – while still very much occupying his key position in the German government! – one need only imagine, say, Anthony Fauci chairing the same committee while still serving as director of NIAID.

Germany’s massively preponderant role in funding the WHO’s Covid-19 response might also help to explain some major, and often otherwise puzzling, decisions of the organization: like, for instance, the decision, in January 2020, to quickly adopt the notoriously oversensitive PCR protocol devised by German virologist Christian Drosten as the gold standard for detecting Covid-19 infection – thus, in effect, ensuring that the illness would obtain pandemic status.

Drosten, who is a member of the “Expert Council” that advises the German government on Covid-19, would subsequently, in September of the same year, be awarded the country’s highest honor: the Order of Merit or Bundesverdienstkreuz. He is chair of the virology department and coordinator of “global health” at Berlin’s Charité teaching and research hospital. Charité is currently home to the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, which was recently launched with $100 million of funding from the German government.

Coda: The photo above the present article shows RKI president Wieler and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus elbow-bumping at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin after signing the Memorandum of Understanding that gave rise to the “Pandemic Hub.”

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