Imagine waking up, glancing at the Internet, and discovering people think your philanthropic efforts to vaccinate the world are actually an attempt to track them using microchips. Well, bizarrely, you've just pictured the life of Bill Gates.
The Microsoft co-founder has been a subject of a number of odd conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the one above. A YouGov poll conducted in May last year found that a whopping 28 percent of Americans believed the statement "Bill Gates wants to use a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 to implant microchips in people that would be used to track people with a digital ID", rising to 50 percent among viewers of Fox News.
There are even those who claimed that they had found schematics for the "vaccine implant" – but if you look closely and know what you're talking about, you will recognize it as a schematic for a guitar pedal.
Then there are people who wrongly believe that there was a patent filed for COVID-19 in 2015 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In reality, coronaviruses are a family of viruses (of which SARS is a notable example), and the patent was for a potential vaccine that could be used to treat respiratory diseases. In birds.
Other conspiracy theories are available. Watch as one former QAnon believer apologizes for believing that his interviewer was a robot who ate babies.
This must all be rather tiring for Gates, who – through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – has so far donated $250 million towards the development of COVID-19 vaccines as part of a total $680 million put towards slowing the pandemic, distributing vaccines to poorer nations, and towards finding treatments for the disease. He had so far remained quiet on the topic, though he has now brushed on the subject in an interview with Reuters.
"Do people really believe that stuff?" Gates asked, adding that we need to learn from it. “We’re really going to have to get educated about this over the next year and understand [...] how does it change peoples' behaviour and how should we have minimized this?”
Vaccine hesitancy could be a significant challenge as the rollout of vaccines continues in the US and around the world. A study recently found that more than a third of people in the US are hesitant or unlikely to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines when they get their chance.
For his part in the conspiracies, Gates is mainly baffled.
“Nobody would have predicted that I and Dr. Fauci would be so prominent in these really evil theories,” Gates told Reuters. “I’m very surprised by that. I hope it goes away.”