Singapore—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong touched on a number of things in an interview with John Micklethwait, the Editor-in-chief of Bloomberg, which was published on Tuesday (Nov 17), for the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

Primary among the topics discussed was the future of global trade, in the light of the current pandemic. PM Lee wrote in a Facebook post about the interview, “The inevitable question followed: how has COVID-19 changed the way we look at the world?”

In short, he answered that the pandemic has taught countries to learn how to deal with the unexpected, as they were forced to abandon current plans and “make COVID-19 their top priority.”

The Prime Minister also touched briefly on the issue of Singapore obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine, given recent reports from Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccine candidates have shown an efficacy rate against the infection higher than 90 per cent.

Professor Kenneth Mak, the director of medical services of the Ministry of Health (MOH), said last week that there are a number of vaccine candidates in advanced stages of clinical trials under consideration for use in Singapore, adding that the country is in talks with pharmaceutical firms for access to these vaccines.

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In the interview with Bloomberg’s Mr Micklethwait, PM Lee said that despite being a small country, due to Singapore’s arrangements with several vaccine makers, the country “will not be last in the queue” once the vaccines are actually available.

“I doubt that we’ll be the first but we don’t want to be the last,” he added.

He acknowledged that larger countries would push to be given priority when it comes to vaccine distribution.

“It is a pity because the WHO (World Health Organisation) makes a very valid point that the best way to get Covid-19 under control is to have a rational scheme of priorities to distribute the vaccine to the places where it will make the most difference to the outbreak. But to optimise that, on a global scale of around 200-odd countries, I think is going to be very hard.”

He added, “I don’t think you would have finished protecting the world’s population within the next year. Furthermore, you’re not sure what risks and problems may arise. And you have to learn as we feel our way forward. So we are not in the best case situation, but at least with where we are now, it has been possible for the science and the technology and the production to come up with a number of vaccines in record time.”

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Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Nov 10 that not everyone in Singapore would be able to get the vaccine due to “multiple factors” that come into play when it comes to vaccine distribution, such as the lack of data concerning the sustainability of the immunity of a particular Covid-19 vaccine.

Prof Mak said that a “more holistic strategy” for vaccination is in the works. “It’s very likely that we will develop a portfolio of different vaccines that may therefore be relevant and appropriate for different segments of the population.”

The American pharmaceutical company, Arcturus Therapeutics, which has been collaborating with Duke-NUS scientists on a possible vaccine, made an announcement on Nov 9 that their early-stage clinical trials has had positive results so far. The preliminary shipment of the vaccine, which was co-developed with Singapore researchers, is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.

In October, the MOH said that it plans to provide a Covid-19 vaccine to those at higher risk, like the elderly, before expanding coverage once a vaccine becomes available. —/TISG

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Read also: Gan Kim Yong: No plans to give everyone in Singapore the Covid-19 vaccine

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