Panellists at Singapore Summit urge countries to avoid trap of 'vaccine nationalism'

SINGAPORE – Countries should not fall into the trap of “vaccine nationalism” and should instead work together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, experts said on Monday (Sept 14).

Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairman of Indian pharmaceutical giant Biocon, said there is an emerging trend of “vaccine nationalism” as countries line up to buy up the first stock of vaccines when they become available.

During a panel discussion on the impact of the pandemic on global trade and businesses on the first day of the Singapore Summit, Ms Mazumdar-Shaw said India is in a “very strong position” as the leading vaccine producer in the world. However, the country recognises it has an obligation to share the vaccine with the rest of the world, especially developing countries, she added.

There also needs to be a concerted global effort to equitably share the vaccines, she said.

Ms Mazumdar-Shaw said: “I think this actually is very sad, that the countries don’t realise that this is a pandemic that has actually affected the entire world.

“It doesn’t know borders, it doesn’t know large or affluent economies, it doesn’t differentiate between developing and developed world economies.”

However, it might take at least a year or a year and a half before large populations can be vaccinated with a safe vaccine, she added. “We should not be rushing vaccines into the market without having enough safety data.”

Ms Mazumdar-Shaw urged countries to move away from the sense of nationalism and anti-globalism.

“Let’s not forget that the developing world has benefited a lot from globalisation, and if you want a resilient economy, you have to get globalisation back on the table.”

Fellow panellist Chen Deming, China’s former commerce minister, said the Covid-19 pandemic is a test for countries to collaborate and work together.

Dr Chen, who is president of the China Association of Enterprises with Foreign Investment, said: “The biggest problem we are facing is that the guidance, strategies and policies of the big countries are not aligned. This is really not good.”

He said he was injected with a China-made vaccine, which had been tested for half a year.

“There are 30,000 people that have been injected with it. So, without any side effects, it will be launched in the winter of this year,” said Dr Chen.

But he said China now does not have a huge enough caseload to carry out tests.

Following requests from more than 10 countries, it has been cultivating, manufacturing and testing vaccines in countries such as Mexico and Russia.

China, said Dr Chen, is willing to expand production of the vaccine globally and hopes that more countries will do the same. Making it available to underdeveloped countries should be a priority, he added.

Mastercard chief executive Ajay Banga said it makes sense for countries to take precautionary measures to safeguard national interests in a crisis, but they can do so without becoming protectionist.

The fourth and final member of the panel was Mr Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman and chief executive of Schneider Electric. The discussion was moderated by CNBC correspondent Nancy Hungerford.

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