The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is best positioned to facilitate the mass production of COVID-19 vaccines once these become available, the principal health specialist of the Asian Development Bank 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 yesterday's Asean Media Forum held online.
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 be subsidized by COVAX are the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore, on the other hand, 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.
"The European Union has also organized a pooled fund for advance purchase of the vaccines. Asean can do this on top of what it will receive from COVAX," Banzon said.
Under the COVAX initiative, countries eligible for subsidies can get doses equivalent to up to 20 percent of their population.
Banzon said the regional bloc 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.