Bill Gates opens up on vaccine conspiracy theories: ‘People yell at me that I’m tracking them’

Bill Gates says people yell at him in the street over conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC on Thursday, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder said: “You almost have to laugh because it’s so crazy.”

One particular conspiracy theory that has gained traction over the past two years makes false claims that Gates wants to use mass vaccination to implant microchips into people so that he can track them digitally.

Gates has always denied such accusations, which have circulated widely on social media.

But Gates’ denial hasn’t been enough to extinguish the theory. In May 2020, a Yahoo/YouGov poll of 1,640 U.S. adults found that almost one in three people believed the debunked microchipping conspiracy theory to be true.

Meanwhile, a survey of almost 5,000 U.K. adults carried out in late 2020 by King’s College London and the University of Bristol found that 8% believed the conspiracy theory, while 15% said they didn’t know whether it was true or false.

A YouGov poll found last July that one in five Americans believed the U.S. government was using COVID-19 vaccines to microchip the population—among those who refused the vaccine, the proportion who believed this theory rose to 51%.

“I mean, do I really want to track people?” Gates said in the BBC interview. “I spend billions on vaccines, I don’t make money on vaccines. Vaccines save lives, they don’t cause death, so you have to say it’s a bit of a strange world where channels for that [theory] gain a lot of interest.”

‘People yell at me’

Gates has long been a prominent advocate of vaccination, and has spent billions of dollars on delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable populations. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a close partner of Gavi, the international vaccine alliance.

Gates’ stance on vaccines, alongside donations he has made toward ending the pandemic, made him a target for online conspiracy theorists even early on in the crisis, according to a New York Times analysis. The Times noted that the theories were particularly popular among right-wing groups.

“Only recently as I’ve been out in public some people yell at me that I’m tracking them, and that’s an awful thing,” Gates told the BBC on Thursday.

He said the most recent person who did this “is not somebody I really had any reason to want to track.”

“I still maintain a sense of humor about it, but to the degree that crazy theories cause people not to want to get vaccinated or wear masks, it is making the toll of the pandemic even worse,” Gates said.

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