TOKYO - Leaders of South Korea, Japan and Indonesia on Friday (Jan 29) voiced concerns over the escalating vaccine fight in Europe, as they feared a spillover impact on supply chains that could disrupt exports to Asia.
"Understandably, every government's first priority is to keep its people safe, and thus, each government is eager to secure enough vaccines for its population," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told an online World Economic Forum Davos Agenda panel.
"But it is hard to understand why some governments are grabbing the vaccines in volumes that are many times more than their population size, and this only exacerbates the uncertainty for the rest of the world," she added.
Mr Taro Kono, Japan's minister-in-charge of vaccine roll-out, concurred, stressing that supply chains are now global. He said: "It is not wise to start disrupting this global supply chain, which could lead to some form of retaliation."
The European Union has announced that it may block exports of vaccines produced in Europe to third countries if it were found that vaccine makers have not fulfilled commitments to the 27-nation bloc.
Mr Kono, who is also Minister of Administrative and Regulatory Reform, said that Japan had "never suspected" that vaccines would be a battle line in the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We are planning to import vaccines produced in the EU. Another type of vaccines, made in the United States, are sent to Europe for packaging, which are then imported to Japan," he said. "Now we are concerned that both types of vaccines may be blocked."
He warned that one unproductive outcome of the vaccine fight is that every country will try to produce everything by itself, which is not economical and impossible for most.
On this note, Dr Kang noted that the Gavi alliance to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines was a "saving grace".
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who co-chairs the Gavi Covax Advance Market Commitment scheme to ensure a fair roll-out of vaccines to a group of 92 emerging economies, pleaded: "Please stop politicising vaccines. Please stop vaccine nationalism. We must remind ourselves that this is a humanitarian issue."