Budget debate: S'pore cannot be bought, bullied or intimidated into approving any Covid-19 vaccine, says Vivian

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore will be an important reference customer when it comes to vaccines. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Singapore will make decisions regarding the approval of vaccines on the basis of science and healthcare needs, and will not be pressured when it comes to decisions on such matters, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament on Monday (March 1).

"We cannot be bought, we cannot be bullied, we cannot be intimidated into either approving or disapproving any vaccine," said Dr Balakrishnan, who was speaking during the debate on the Foreign Ministry's budget.

"There will be pressure on us, there will be push and pulls, but we must conduct this just like another example of foreign policy, in a principled manner," he said in response to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who had noted that the distribution patterns of Covid-19 vaccines around the world reflected a certain power play along traditional alliances.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore will be an important reference customer when it comes to vaccines, precisely because the world knows that the country bases its decisions on science and healthcare needs, as opposed to other factors.

Ms Lim had also asked if countries joining the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) facility face any restrictions on reaching bilateral arrangements for Covid-19 vaccine purchases, and whether such bilateral arrangements will pose an obstacle to the success of the Covax programme, which aims to procure, equitably allocate and deliver two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this year.

Dr Balakrishnan explained that under Covax's global risk-sharing mechanism, countries with more resources, including Singapore, would make advance market commitments for the vaccines.

This would incentivise multiple pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines in a timely manner, despite the significant business risk. "If there wasn't such a facility to pool risk and therefore incentivise this simultaneous rapid development of vaccines, we wouldn't be in this happy situation," he explained, referring to how promising vaccine candidates that Singapore and other countries had made advance purchase agreements for have now been approved by health authorities and are being used in various countries.

While putting money into the collective pot entitles Singapore to its fair share of Covid-19 vaccines on the basis of full market price, a "significant amount" will be committed to help support the less well-off countries, Dr Balakrishnan explained.

This ensures that there will be some vaccines available to countries around the world, especially for essential workers, preventing a situation where only countries who can afford vaccines have access to them.

He also clarified that Singapore's US$5 million (S$6.7 million) contribution to the Advance Market Commitment under the Covax facility, which ensures access to vaccines for developing countries, is not specifically earmarked for Asean.

Singapore has a separate Asean Covid-19 Response Fund, which it has also committed funds to, and which will be used based on needs within the Asean family, he added. It was announced in November that Singapore will contribute US$100,000 to the fund, which helps member states procure the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the pandemic.

Over and above the contribution to the fund, Singapore has also separately been giving test kits, personal protective equipment, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines for the detection of Covid-19, among other things, to governments and non-governmental organisations throughout the region.

"We have not beat our drums about it, but that good work has been done and it has been appreciated by our neighbours," said Dr Balakrishnan.

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