Google co-founder Larry Page is funneling money from his charitable foundation to a private flu-fighting initiative run as a for-profit company, TechCrunch reported. The program offers free flu shots to children in Oakland, California-area schools. Page also has a second company funding efforts to create a universal flu vaccine, according to the report.
The free flu shots are offered through a group called Shoo The Flu, which started funding flu shots for both elementary and kindergarten through eighth grade schools in 2014. Shoo the Flu reimburses the Alameda County Public Health Department and school districts for the cost of the program.
The second company, Flu Lab, provides funding for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenge for Universal Influenza Vaccine Development. Page and his family were initially contributing funding to the challenge directly, but they were replaced by Flu Lab. Flu Lab also supports the nonprofit Sabin Vaccine Institute, which works to expand vaccine access. The funding established the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group, which met in 2018 to discuss efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine.
Shoo the Flu’s director is also the CEO of Flu Lab, and TechCrunch reported that Shoo the Flu will soon move under the umbrella of Flu Lab.
A universal flu vaccine is a long-standing goal for infectious disease research. If successfully developed, scientists would no longer have to guess which flu strains will be circulating in the following year, and one shot would protect people for more than one flu season. But while dozens of candidates are in development and some have reached clinical trials, a final product is still likely years away.
Both Shoo the Flu and Flu Lab are private, for-profit companies and therefore not required to file public tax returns. However, the funding for Shoo the Flu comes from Page’s charitable foundation, the Carl Victor Page Memorial Foundation, which does have to file public returns. That makes the money flowing into the company public; Page’s foundation gave Shoo the Flu over $4.1 million between 2015 and 2017, TechCrunch reported. What the organization did with that money is not as readily available.
“Even if Page were to choose in the most exceptionally wise and effective way, I would object to the creation of LLCs in which billionaires can hide the exercise of their power,” Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, told TechCrunch.