by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic by TMR FILE
ASEAN countries must work hand in hand and prioritise the regional bloc in order to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (picture) said Malaysia remains steadfast in its stance for the vaccine to be obtained fairly, easily accessible and affordable.
In fact, Hishammuddin said in order to reduce the costs of the vaccine and drive Asean as a region of innovation in biotechnology, its members should position itself as a hub for the coronavirus vaccine, either in terms of production or distribution.
“While the world is trying to find a Covid-19 vaccine, Asean with a population of 650 million needs to find a way to remain steadfast in its commitment to ensure that the member states are given priority in the development and distribution of vaccines in the future,” he said while addressing the 53rd Asean Day in Putrajaya last Friday.
“In every great crisis lies great opportunity. While vaccine diplomacy is just one of them, Covid-19 must serve as a wake-up call for us to leave our comfort zones and explore new areas of cooperation that we can take advantage of,” he added.
Founded in 1967, Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Also present at the event were Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri and Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Lim Ban Hong.
As of now, the deadly virus had claimed almost 8,000 lives (at press time) in the region and up to 313,000 people have been infected. The worst-hit countries are the Philippines and Indonesia.
The Philippines saw 4,131 new cases and 41 deaths on Aug 8, bringing the total to 126,885 cases and 2,209 deaths, while Indonesia recorded 2,277 new cases and 65 deaths on the same day, taking the total to 123,503 cases and 5,658 deaths.
On Aug 6, Health DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Malaysia had proposed to be the hub of the clinical trial for the vaccine with China, but as the rate of the coronavirus infection in the country is low, China had taken the research to Brazil, a country that reported more than 50,000 daily cases and a death toll of 100,000.
In Indonesia, scientists are reportedly set to start Phase III clinical trials of a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by a China-based biopharmaceutical firm in six different locations in the West Java provincial capital of Bandung.
An Indonesian local university, which initiated the move, has gathered about 800 volunteers registered for the trials, half of its total target.
Hishammuddin said for Asean to establish a vaccine hub for Covid-19, either in terms of the creation or distribution, a good business-to-business relationship must be esta-blished, besides the good government-to-government understanding.
Hishammuddin said the hub for the vaccine may not be in the near future as each nation is now approaching the vaccine providers bilaterally.
“But there will be a time I believe that we will sit together and explore how these bilateral relationships can benefit Asean collectively.
“There is no use if the vaccine is reached only by certain countries, but the neighbours are still adversely affected by the coronavirus,” he added.
At Wisma Putra level, Hishammuddin said he had raised the need for the Covid-19 vaccine at the Asean level in his recent telephone conversations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Among others, he said Putrajaya and Washington have also agreed to focus efforts on the manufacturing and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine once it is readily available.
Meanwhile, Hishammuddin reminds that the dispute relating to the South China Sea must be resolved within the Asean members, especially on the overlapping claims between the nations including the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei, before it can be collectively brought up to the more powerful states of China and the US.
“We should not be dragged into the dispute of both superpowers, while we cannot agree to settle the claims at our level.
“If we face them together as Asean, then we will have a better chance to solve this, based on our terms,” Hishammuddin said.