Vaccine access crucial to overcome pandemic

July 16, 2021 | 12:20
Major organisations are lauding the efforts of Vietnam to establish a public vaccine fund in the midst of the coronavirus surge.
Vaccine access crucial to overcome pandemic
Photo: Le Toan

Lesley Miller, deputy representative of UNICEF, noted that the government has made a commitment to vaccinate 70-80 per cent of the population with 150 million doses. “We know this entails procurement, in addition to the COVAX, of another 112 million more doses. To break this virus, our goal is to distribute equitably the vaccines to reach across all 63 provinces,” Miller said. “The vaccines have to be safely delivered with trained health staff, kept at the right temperature with efficient cold chain equipment. And all of that needs budget.”

Businesses are among the keenest to see Vietnam open and thrive and among the most eager to have their workers protected from the virus and from the crippling economic woes if their business needs to close. Thus, their willingness to fund and to support the effective rollout of the vaccine is both a message of solidarity as well as investment in their staying open for business.

She said it makes sense for the government to reach out to the business community, national and international companies who understand that the vaccine is going to be the game-changer in terms of managing the COVID-19 virus and who want to make a contribution to ensuring that the government cannot not only buy vaccines but can distribute them safely and effectively.

“UNICEF welcomes the pooled fund. We really appreciate the national solidarity that has been shown in pooling funds together,” Miller added. “Vaccines are a public good and they should be provided free of charge to the population, particularly the prioritised groups as well as vulnerable and poor populations. As is the case in every country, it should be the government who manages these processes, who purchases the vaccine, controls those purchases, and ensures safe distribution.”

An AstraZeneca Vietnam spokesperson told VIR that the Vietnamese government and Ministry of Health (MoH) are right that vaccination is one of the most vital keys to overcoming the pandemic, alongside the 5K preventive measures. “With this in mind, they provided us with valuable guidance and support throughout the process to procure our vaccine for the protection of Vietnamese people, making Vietnam one of the first countries in Asia to access it in late February,” the spokesperson said.

So far, about 2.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been delivered to Vietnam through COVAX and the advance purchase agreement. More than 1 million doses have been given to frontline workers, the MoH and other leading authorities, as well as people living in the most impacted areas.

“Having accompanied the Vietnamese health sector for 27 years, AstraZeneca is proud to contribute to the country’s fight against COVID-19 in such a meaningful way with our vaccine supply,” the spokesperson added. “Millions more doses of our vaccine are expected to arrive in the coming months to support Vietnam’s efforts to protect public health, reopen borders, and accelerate economic recovery. We will continue to work closely with the MoH, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and others to deliver our vaccine to millions of people across the country in the safest and fastest way possible.”

To use the fund effectively, Marko Walde, chief representative of the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Vietnam, said that from lessons learned from Germany, implementing a vaccine roll-out plays an essential role to control the pandemic. Therefore, Vietnam should adopt flexible vaccination strategies where everyone has the access to a vaccine. “In the kick-off phase, besides the vaccination priority, Vietnam should have logistical plans for how a citizen can get a vaccination appointment to meet the challenges,” Walde said.

Recently, many giants in Vietnam have donated billions of VND each to the national vaccine fund, making a great contribution to stamp out the pandemic outbreaks in the country. For German companies, the mechanism is quite new and Walde looks forward to obtaining more details on the concrete and transparent process of implementation.

“Germany and the EU provided vaccines to Vietnam via the COVAX facility. The German community in Vietnam would facilitate Vietnam’s access to vaccines and production technology, as the country is expanding its vaccination program to achieve the dual goal of fighting the pandemic and restoring the economy,” he noted.

According to UNICEF, it is very important that the government controls that funding and there is a transparent information flow on how the funding is received and how it is being used. It is also critical that there be an equitable distribution of the vaccines to all of the priority groups and to the poor and most vulnerable populations. It should not be the case that only those who can pay get vaccinated.

UNICEF strongly recommends that the government controls the procurement and distribution of vaccines, Miller explained. The understanding where that vaccine is purchased to make sure we fraudulent vaccines are avoided is important; and being able to manage the cost for vaccines so that it will not escalate the price.

“Vaccine rollout is the key life-saving intervention of our lifetime. UNICEF advocates for all vaccine purchases and distribution to be carried out by the MoH in order to ensure vaccines are safe and equitably distributed,” Miller stated.

Adam Sitkoff - Executive director, American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi

We are grateful that President Biden has chosen Vietnam as one of the first countries to receive surplus doses of vaccine from the United States. It is a wonderful first step.

The effort by many people urging the US government to donate to Vietnam was effective, including a recent letter from President Nguyen Xuan Phuc to President Biden. Although the first shipment of donated vaccines to Vietnam is not large, it is only the first phase of a large-scale programme that will utilise the substantial supply of vaccines in America.

The US will allocate at least 80 million doses worldwide this month and we expect much more to follow later this summer. Right now, only three out of every 10,000 people in Vietnam are fully vaccinated and until many more people get inoculated, we will likely see additional outbreaks and economic disruption from the virus. It is difficult for people to be patient in the middle of an outbreak, but global demand for proven vaccines far exceeds supply.

Government officials are working hard to ensure large quantities of vaccines arrive here at the soonest possible date. However, people need to be realistic and recognise that we are a long way from community immunity here. In the meantime, people should follow Vietnamese COVID-19 prevention measures, stay vigilant, and use common sense.

Simon Fraser - Executive director, Australian Chamber of Commerce Vietnam

The fund is more than just a vehicle to purchase vaccines, it represents a united country focused on fighting an invisible enemy which has the capacity to disrupt every facet of our lives. Everyone is equal under this fund which ensures a healthy environment for people to have some normality in their lives and sooner rather than later.

At present, the supply of vaccines is outstripped by the demand, but as supply rolls in, Vietnam must ensure it reaches a sufficient portion of its 100 million population to reach herd immunity by the end of 2021 to maintain economic growth above 6 per cent.

The vaccines are only one part of the equation. One of the most important requirements is engagement through communications and education, followed by logistics and the administration of vaccines and then the follow-up doses. This would be a logistical challenge for any country, and so it is for Vietnam.

Ensuring the right message and meeting the needs of the community is of the essence and the unity required for this has never been better displayed than in Vietnam where people rise to crises and challenges together.

Seck Yee Chung - Vice president, Singapore Business Group

Vietnam’s vaccine fund seeks contributions from individuals and companies for the purchase and production of COVID-19 vaccines. The widespread fundraising campaign is an encouraging display of collective communal support during hard times, with as much as VND7.52 trillion ($326.9 million) received in late June.

Procuring 150 million doses of vaccines to inoculate 75 per cent of Vietnam’s population would cost about VND25.2 trillion (approximately $1.1 billion). The vaccine fund will help to cover about one-third of this cost.

Most recently, the government adjusted its vaccination roadmap due to challenges in securing enough vaccines to meet the initial target for herd immunity by the end of 2021. The new target is to fully vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the population by the second quarter of 2022 to achieve herd immunity.

Therefore, it is key that the government purchases effective vaccines and invest in the development of approved vaccines in Vietnam. Funds can also be allocated to organise logistics, which includes developing infrastructure like vaccination centres and storage facilities and properly compensating healthcare workers for overtime work.

It is important to ensure transparency in the disbursement of funds and to keep pace with vaccine rollout targets.

Singapore Business Group has organised a COVID-19 collection so that our members can support poor households in quarantine areas. Many of our members have donated to the government’s vaccine fund.

By Thanh Van

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