The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should lead in the mass production of vaccines against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Asian Development Bank’s principal health specialist said Tuesday. "Rather than compete for a limited supply, let us increase the vaccine supply. Asean has the manufacturing expertise. It is time for Asean to make such a call," said ADB's Dr. Eduardo Banzon during Asean Media Forum held online (24/11/2020).
Dr. Eduardo Banzon highlighted that ASEAN member-states have the capability to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccines once these are made available. He mentioned Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore. He said it is quite unfortunate that countries are fighting to acquire stocks of the vaccine but this is expected as a natural behavior.
Asean member-states are part of COVAX, a global initiative of 172 countries aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to ensure equitable access to safe and effective vaccines through advance purchase arrangements. Among those that will receive subsidy by COVAX are the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Vietnam. While Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore are helping finance the initiative that aims to procure an initial 2 billion doses amid reports that rich countries have already snapped up over half of the total potential COVID-19 vaccine supply.
“Rather than compete with the world for the limited supply, one way to frame it is let’s build the supply up. And we already know that ASEAN is capable of manufacturing. So is there a way for ASEAN to facilitate, these countries to help manufacture more vaccines for the world and hopefully that additional doses could be made available to ASEAN,” Dr. Banzon said.
“Globally we should sit down, ASEAN should call for it so that more supply, more vaccines should be produced. ASEAN has been very good at that. ASEAN should sort of call for it,” he added.
“The Europeans actually pooled their money. The way the Europeans did the advance payment for the vaccines, they did not do it as individual countries with the exception of UK (United Kingdown), the EU actually…sort of assembled themselves into an alliance and then they went jointly for advanced purchase commitment,” he said.
Under the COVAX initiative, countries eligible for subsidies can get doses equivalent to up to 20 percent of their population. Dr. Banzon added that ASEAN should also consider setting up an Asean center for emerging infectious diseases as well as a medical reserve fund.
"This will hasten sharing of surveillance data and best practices from the member-countries. Having something similar to a CDC (Center for Disease Control) will ensure we can rapidly bring in a regional response," he said.
Vietnam Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dzung, for his part, said member-states must help each other for the region to bounce back from the economic slump caused by the pandemic. "A cohesive and responsive Asean can rise above the challenges we are facing now and allow us to sustainably recover from the impact of COVID-19 and sustain growth," he said.