Coronavirus: US and vaccines

Singapore, Switzerland co-chair global effort on access to vaccine

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday took part in the virtual Joint Finance and Health Ministers Meeting.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday took part in the virtual Joint Finance and Health Ministers Meeting.PHOTO: HENG SWEE KEAT/FACEBOOK

Singapore and Switzerland are jointly chairing a global initiative to support equitable access to a Covid-19 vaccine, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Singapore is an early supporter of the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) Facility, said Mr Heng in a Facebook post, and is co-chairing the Friends of the Covax Facility initiative with Switzerland, to promote vaccine multilateralism.

Earlier in the evening, Mr Heng, together with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, took part in the virtual Joint Finance and Health Ministers Meeting hosted by Group of 20 (G-20) chairman Saudi Arabia.

Thanking his Saudi counterparts for their leadership on global efforts to fight the pandemic, Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, said: "Health and finance have always been closely intertwined, and in a pandemic, this is even more so."

He noted that countries, international organisations and the private sector are "joining forces to accelerate vaccine development, maximise manufacturing capacity, and ensure equitable distribution".

A spokesman for the Health Ministry previously said Singapore was among the first countries to submit an expression of interest to join the Covax Facility back in June.

The Covax financing scheme will enable fast and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for the 76 countries involved, along with 92 other poorer countries that are supported under the scheme.

The scheme is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the World Health Organisation (WHO); and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. By working with multinational and developing country vaccine manufacturers, the Covax Facility aims to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO pre-qualification by the end of next year.

In his post, Mr Heng said: "Covid-19 is a global crisis, so international cooperation is critical. The G-20, which covers nearly 80 per cent of the world's economy, and the World Health Organisation have key roles to play."

The G-20 finance and health ministers said in a statement last night that equitable and affordable access to vaccines for all is key to overcoming the pandemic and supporting the global economic recovery.

"We will continue to use all available policy tools to safeguard people's lives, jobs and incomes", the group said, adding that an action plan will be presented at the G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting next month, and later at the G-20 leaders' summit in November.

Mr Heng also emphasised that as countries restart their economies in a safe manner, they need to coordinate their resumption of activities. "As we restart air travel, testing will be key to give assurance to travellers and public health authorities. We must work together to develop international standards, and share test results quickly, including through electronic means," he said.

"We must also continue to identify gaps and strengthen our health and financial resilience against future outbreaks."

The meeting comes as a study released by Oxfam showed a group of wealthy countries representing just 13 per cent of the world population have bought up over half the promised Covid-19 vaccine stocks.

Global coronavirus cases crossed the 30 million mark yesterday, with over 940,000 deaths and the pandemic showing no signs of abating.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore, Switzerland co-chair global effort on access to vaccine'. Subscribe