1. Let me give a caveat on what our Chair has mentioned. I am going to speak up for small countries. We have a population of 5.8 million. We are smaller than the population of Jakarta, certainly smaller than Delhi, smaller than Johannesburg, much smaller than Lagos, smaller than Ho Chi Minh City, smaller than Buenos Aires, smaller than Rio. To drive from one end of Singapore to the other takes about 45 minutes. That is how small we are. But that is also what makes us feel vulnerable in a pandemic. Given that we are such a small market, will we be bypassed and forgotten?
2. It is in this context that I am going to try to answer this question. Taking a step back, I think it is important for us to draw the right conclusion from the pandemic. Some bad things happened during the pandemic – vaccine equity was a major one. On the whole, global cooperation and global efforts worked and eventually helped us overcome the pandemic. The world produced mRNA and other vaccines in record time, and although they did not reach all markets at the same time, over time, capacity was built up and it was sufficient. Those are very big plus points.
3. On the whole, if we are to draw the right conclusion from this pandemic, it is that global cooperation and multilateralism work, but they need to be better. This is not the time for us to turn our back against multilateral cooperation, including manufacturing of vaccines, but to look at how do we improve it. I like the comment that when we look at regional vaccine manufacturing, it is in support of a larger global effort. I think that is where we come from, from the perspective of a small country.
4. Coming out from the pandemic, the sentiments are still quite raw. There are strong views about the need for regional self-sufficiency, or even national self-sufficiency. We have efforts like the mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub and we applaud all these efforts. I hope they succeed. If we succeed in this technology transfer and we build up the resilience, I think we are in a good place for the next pandemic.
5. But we are always at risk of fighting the last war when the next war is different. Some experts told me that the next pandemic might not be respiratory. It might not require mRNA vaccines, and may require some other platforms. It could be very different. In the process of technology transfer, building up manufacturing hubs in regions, we run into the problem of sustainability, which is an issue to be addressed. In this pandemic, we witnessed many good vaccine developers who encountered the problem of manufacturing and getting regulatory approval, so it may not be straightforward.
6. I would say as a small country, we need to buy one more insurance, and take a global approach. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is doing wonderful work. Singapore is supporting it with specific pathogens that are relevant to our region and we will contribute to the effort. If we can have vaccines in a hundred days, we are in a good place for the next pandemic. There are good reasons for us to feel that it can be done.
7. The question is who will then manufacture them and I would say why not take a global design approach. Vaccines can be manufactured in different regions, where the centres of the world can produce for the rest of the world. I was quite thrilled when I heard Dr Tedros in his recorded message listing some possible criteria. To paraphrase, skilled workforce, the ability to adopt technology, the ability to ensure sustainability, a stable environment for the long haul. I will add one more from a small country, a commitment to export from day one of production.
8. In Singapore, for example, during the pandemic we were short of certain supplies. We were short of masks, for example, but we honoured all our contracts. I think we need that kind of manufacturing network to buy or sell, to get assurance for the next pandemic. Thank you very much.