THE HONORABLE TEODORO L. LOCSIN, JR.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation
05 August 2021
His Excellency Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China,
The Philippines is privileged to join this International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation. China has consistently led the way in battling COVID. This Forum shows that once more.
China’s role is imperative for a global post-pandemic recovery. Its continuing success undoubted in containing and beating down the epidemic — albeit again and again as the virus repeatedly raises its head in different if not deadlier more infectious mutations.
And this cannot be taken away from China when it comes to COVID response.
China was first on the scene with a manner of cure, still the best protocols of protection, the smartest preventive strategies for COVID containment and eradication, and the first effective vaccines.
We join in China’s call for strengthening collective action and finding solutions together in the battle against COVID. Our priorities stay the same.
First, equitable, timely, and affordable access to vaccines; vaccines as a global public good. President Duterte spelled it out with clarity at the United Nations General Assembly. Access to COVID-19 vaccines must not be denied or withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor countries alike. Why we have contributed US$1,100,000 to the COVAX Facility global initiative.
Four billion doses have been administered worldwide. But the rate of vaccination is 30x more in countries with the highest incomes than in countries with the lowest. In the Philippines, we have administered only 20 million doses for a population of more than 90 million qualified to take. We know the reason is not because we have many anti-vaxxers. We just don’t have enough vaccines.
Not much later than vaccine supplies arrive they’ve gone into the arms of a waiting population. And then comes another wait and another spread in the waiting until the next supply arrives.
Still we’re doing much better than others. But that is no cause for celebration but rather concern. We feel every life lost, every orphan made, every family shattered, every job lost anywhere — personally. Filipinos are raised to be people for others more than for themselves. Why my country produces more, better, and more caring healthcare workers.
Second, speed up vaccine production worldwide and enable developing countries to produce vaccines.We need to start with the adoption of WTO’s proposal to waive intellectual property protections on vaccines. In an increasingly likely future of regular booster shots for COVID like we’ve done for the common flu, strategically dispersed local production of vaccines is a lifeline and a net cast faster, farther and wider than any alternative strategy.
So next is encourage more international partnerships to boost global production of vaccines and therapeutics. Alongside that is strengthening vaccine research and development.
The Philippines’ long-term strategy to ensure vaccine sufficiency is to establish a Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a Virology Institute. For initiatives like this to take off, transparency in and sharing of research data is needed.
Third, facilitate the movement of vaccinated people across borders. There should be no discrimination based on what vaccine one received. All vaccines work — with some people as effectively as any vaccines that came later with the benefit of hindsight.
Otherwise, it is discrimination against developing countries who got what was first on offer and what they could afford; whose vaccination programs — the first available anywhere — were kick-started by, and relied on the compassion and generosity of China.
Why should they be penalized by the refusal and inability of others to provide vaccines? Even today.
That would make of vaccines the conduct of diplomacy by warlike means; specifically, by invidious selection, heartless siege, and therapeutic starvation unto death.
When critics of China said its vaccines are not as good, I said: As compared to what?
The Chinese vaccines were the first on the scene; the most effective at the time; and the safest to take because they relied on tried and tested science and technology.
The vaccines were somewhat like existing vaccines but enhanced many times over and redirected at COVID. They were therefore safer to take; with fewer, smaller, less likely side effects or for some the cure could be worse than the disease.
Had many countries not made a grab for it, the death toll would be far greater today and the infection far, far more widespread.
To mentally dishonest apprehensions about its lower efficacy — as to compared to vaccines that did not yet exist? — I said: No country will make a vaccine that is less than optimal considering the speed at which it had to be invented and widely deployed within China itself before its hesitant deployment abroad. For China never pushed its vaccines on the unwilling. I know that because I asked for them and then for more of them.
None but the irrational would invent something potentially hurtful and use it on itself, so others might be misled to use it on themselves.
That would make it a weapon of mass destruction preceded by mass suicide as a test. What would be the point of posthumous victory?
But the malicious haven’t stopped. Where did it come from? they ask. The answer: a bat. No, they insist; it had to be something else. Why? Okay, show where else? They could not.
What has stopped is more people listening to them. Less and less believe them. And they have become a joke. But a deadly one more intent on stopping a cure than finding it; more determined to deny cures to spread the virus. I don’t understand their motivation; nor can you because we are not like them.
By ensuring that COVID vaccines reach every corner of the globe, we safeguard not just our people’s health and livelihoods but also speed up the world’s economic recovery. The road to recovering what’s lost and regaining our former economic momentum towards a sustainable economy post-pandemic is not linear with a singular solution.
It will have to be multi-faceted and many layered, involving varied global actors, the most critical at opposite ends of the world. I congratulate China for its leadership in bringing us together.
Like a city encircled and under siege, our walls are repeatedly breached by every mutation; our gates are left a little open for the enemy to slip in — by carelessness or reckless disregard for the safety of others on the part of those who don’t fear for their own safety so long as they can hurt their enemies. There are people like that.
This is why our vigilance must never flag; our response not delay or fail to come. Why — in village, city, country, continent; indeed in a world everywhere under attack, we must fight with whatever is at hand — and share it; seek or make better weapons to wield — and share them; and why we can never surrender — because that means death: of one’s family, of one’s friends, community, country, humanity across the world.
Looking up and out at the entire breadth of the danger, from our side of the battlefield we see — in the deadly distance approaching, across borders to right, left, indeed around us; across cultural and language divides —that in this pandemic all men are brothers, all women sisters, all children our own; all peoples of any color, creed, feature or speech our friends. And that others’ losses are just as deeply felt as our own.
We have found finally solidarity in this adversity; and in that we have discovered a new strength. We will prevail.
And after the last battle, more and more of mankind will see that we are all friends; that no victory is sweeter than over suspicion and hate; that no triumph so enduring as when those who thought they were enemies discover they were each other’s allies against an enemy more real and deadlier than any they imagined before. And they had our backs and we had theirs; they were at our sides when we stood by theirs. It was the only way to fight the common enemy that was everywhere.
Long after this war against COVID is over we shall see that all those rivalries and competitions were a waste and in vain. Thank you, my friend, my brother State Counselor; thank you all.