New coronavirus variants highlight the need for countries to do their own research and development on COVID-19 vaccines, said a senior Philippines trade official, adding that people will only be safe once the whole world is vaccinated.
The Philippines is looking to work with its trading partners on this as vaccine demand is unlikely to wane anytime soon, said Allan Gepty, assistant secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
The new COVID-19 variants highlight that "we have to continue doing our respective research and development in this area because there is a truism that …no one is safe unless everyone is safe," said Gepty.
"The Philippines is more than willing to work with other trading partners on research and development."
His comments come as the world is battling the new Omicron variant, which has underscored the danger of low vaccination rates in some emerging countries as their affluent counterparts move to give boosters to their population.
Gepty said the demand for vaccines wiould "always be there", which is why "we have to be concerned with the manufacturing aspect".
While the Philippines struggled to secure vaccine supplies at the start of the pandemic, it has since build up its inventory through imports and donations, with a massive three-day vaccination drive taking place this week. The Philippines does not currently manufacture any COVID-19 vaccines.
The Philippines suffered among the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia. With only close to 33% of the country's population fully inoculated so far, its vaccination rate is lagging those of its regional peers.
The Southeast Asian nation also wants the World Trade Organization (WTO) to come up with "concrete actions" on both trade and public health issues, Gepty said, without elaborating.
A trade response to the pandemic is on the radar of the WTO, which had to postpone its first ministerial meeting in four years due to the global alarm over Omicron.
Gepty said the Philippines has the capability to become involved in vaccine manufacturing but there are issues that need to be addressed, such as enforcing trade rules and ensuring the smooth flow of raw materials for vaccines.
"We have to take into account the supply chain and also the access to various raw materials," he said. "That's why on the trade aspect it is very important that the flow of these essential goods, the raw materials, among others, must not be hampered."