Fact check: Post misleads on Bill Gates' comment about vaccines, population growth

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The claim: Post implies Bill Gates wanted to control global population by killing people with vaccines

A March 16 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) uses a meme featuring characters from the Bill & Ted movies to suggest Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has an ulterior motive in promoting vaccinations.

"I used to love TED talks. Then I saw the one where Bill Gates did one and said there were too many people on the planet. And the only way to fix that was with a sudden rush of new vatccines (sic)," the post reads. "That ted talk was in 2010. Glad I never took that bogus shot, dudes."

The post was liked more than 50 times in four days.

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Our rating: Missing context

The implied claim is wrong. Gates did say in a 2010 TED talk that vaccinations could play a role in slowing population growth. However, he has encouraged vaccinations because they reduce child mortality and data shows that birth rates decrease when children are more likely to survive into adulthood.

Vaccinations intended to save lives

In his talk, "Innovating to zero!" Gates discussed eliminating carbon dioxide emissions. In the presentation, he noted that population growth was one of several factors driving carbon usage.

"The world today has 6.8 billion people," Gates said. "That's headed up to about 9 billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10% or 15%."

While the social media post implies vaccines can be used to reduce the population by killing people, USA TODAY has repeatedly debunked notions that COVID-19 vaccinations kill people, and that Bill Gates is part of a conspiracy to depopulate the planet.

US businessman Bill Gates and his daughter Phoebe arrive for TIME 100 Gala at Lincoln Center in New York, June 8, 2022.
US businessman Bill Gates and his daughter Phoebe arrive for TIME 100 Gala at Lincoln Center in New York, June 8, 2022.

Opponents of vaccinations have twisted data to falsely claim COVID-19 shots caused all 1.1 million excess deaths recorded in 2019 in the U.S. A study from the Commonwealth Fund estimated COVID-19 vaccines saved more than 3 million lives nationwide.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has supported global vaccination campaigns for a number of diseases in developing countries. It reported in its 2017 annual letter that 122 million children's lives were saved over a 25-year span through healthcare initiatives that included its support of vaccination development and distribution.

Gates did not elaborate on his vaccination remark during his TED talk, but he has repeatedly linked reducing child mortality to slowing population growth. In January 2010, weeks before his talk, the Gates Foundation pledged to increase its spending on vaccines to combat child mortality.

Fact check: COVID-19 mRNA vaccines cannot cause the disease, don't have live virus

USA TODAY also debunked a social media claim last year that focused on Gates's population comment. As noted then, the foundation's 2014 annual letter pointed out that women in areas with poor health care tend to have more children because of a higher mortality rate. It cited research showing that as child mortality rates dropped in countries with improving health care, so did the birth rate.

"When children are well-nourished, fully vaccinated and treated for common illnesses like diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia, the future gets a lot more predictable," reads the annual letter. "Parents start making decisions based on the reasonable expectation that their children will live."

In a video attached to the foundation's 2018 letter, Gates said that "as health improves, families choose to have less children." A chart in the video showed an inverse relationship between the improvement of health care and the annual growth rate of the world population.

In a 2011 Forbes article, Gates said his foundation pivoted to spending more on vaccines after he saw data showing that birth rates fall and population growth stabilizes when mortality rates in a society fall below 10 deaths per 1,000 people.

"It goes against common sense," he said.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Post misleads on Gates' comment about vaccines, population