Vaccine donations in the pipeline from US partners

July 02, 2021 | 08:00
As Vietnam is gearing up its efforts to accelerate the vaccination roll-out, the United States is set to donate 55 million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines to nations including Vietnam. Mary Tarnowka, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, based in Ho Chi Minh City, shared with VIR’s Thanh Van details about the efforts of American businesses to support Vietnam’s mass vaccination campaign.

Could you share how American businesses and the country will help Vietnam speed up its vaccinations?

Mary Tarnowka, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam
Mary Tarnowka, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam

Vietnam has been designated a priority country, together with several other countries, for US global vaccine sharing of 80 million doses. The first tranche of 25 million doses was announced by the White House on June 3; the second, for 55 million doses, was announced on June 21.

In addition to sharing doses from American supplies, the US administration is also committed to working with US corporations to produce more vaccines to share with the world. Just before the G7 Summit, President Biden announced the US will buy 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses and donate them to 92 low and middle-income countries over the next year. Other G7 members also committed to donating another 500 million doses to this effort, for a total of one billion doses.

We welcomed Japan’s donation of one million vaccines last week, for example, and look forward to deliveries of US vaccines to Vietnam soon.

AmCham Vietnam’s leadership, including the Board of Directors, former chairs, and leading US businesses sent a letter to President Biden last month advocating that Vietnam should be designated as a priority country for US global vaccine sharing. We coordinated closely with both the US Mission in Vietnam and the Vietnamese government on this effort, and recently had a virtual meeting with Vietnam’s Ambassador to the US Ha Kim Ngoc to discuss how we could continue collaboration on securing vaccines and other efforts to promote continued business operations, maintenance of supply chains, and a safe reopening and economic recovery in Vietnam.

Together with other foreign business chambers and associations, we have shared our recommendations on enabling a safe reopening and recovery and partnering to support pandemic control and vaccines with the prime minister and others.

AmCham seeks to partner with the Vietnamese government to secure adequate supplies of proven vaccines; contribute towards financing of vaccines for our employees and the general public; partner on vaccine rollout; and develop quarantine policies that contribute to the dual goals of containing the spread of the pandemic and promoting economic growth.

AmCham member companies support the government’s actions to secure proven vaccines directly from manufacturers and their authorised representatives, COVAX, and bilateral contributions. We welcome the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) warnings of COVID-19 vaccine fraud, and actions by the Vietnamese government to prevent sales of counterfeit vaccines.

We also support Vietnam’s efforts to establish vaccine priority categories aligned with World Health Organization guidelines, and to administer distribution of vaccines transparently in accordance with these priorities to address public health risks and enable economic recovery.

What are the expectations for the government to shore up the vaccine supplies and inoculate its people?

Vietnam has continued to carry out impressive COVID-19 control measures. However, the current wave with apparently highly transmissible variants presents new risks. It is clear that vaccines are needed to maintain continuity of business operations and supply chains, as well as enable a safe reopening and economic recovery.

In recent months, Vietnam has made tremendous strides in securing access to approved vaccines, and now has at least 120 million in the pipeline, in addition to recent commitments by the US and other G7 member countries. It is well on its way to securing the 150 million it has targeted to ensure 70 per cent of its population can be immunised to achieve herd immunity.

We look forward to vaccinations being carried out equitably, efficiently, and transparently, according to the priority designations, and value the registrations being made now to prepare for such plans. We support the government’s efforts to manage public health risks by distributing vaccines equitably to both Vietnamese citizens and foreign residents, according to vaccine priority groups.

As the MoH continues to refine the priority categories, we have requested that all employees in polyclinics and pharmacies be recognised as frontline healthcare workers, as well as pharmaceutical and medical equipment distributors who travel to multiple clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals every day. We also requested that workers in ports, who are on the frontlines facilitating the vast majority of Vietnam’s energy supplies and 90 per cent of its trade, be considered as frontline workers, as they are elsewhere in the world.

Finally, we requested that retail workers also be considered a priority group, particularly those involved in essential services, such as food and beverage sales.

AmCham does not seek preferential access to vaccines; rather we seek equitable access, according to priority risk guidelines. It would be useful if the government considers structuring contributions via two transparent mechanisms: one for employees and family members, and one for charitable contributions toward vaccinating the general population.

What are upcoming challenges to facilitate the vaccination roll-out, and what are your suggestions for the country to overcome these?

One of the biggest tasks will be the vaccine rollout, given the huge quantities that will start arriving as early as July and the different and complex requirements for storage and administration. That will require advance identification and registration of individuals wanting to be vaccinated, and tracking of individuals vaccinated, as well as development of an appropriate vaccine credential.

It will also entail complex logistics, storage, distribution, and administration plans to ensure security of the supply chains and safe and efficient vaccinations. We know the Vietnamese government has tremendous power when it mobilises, and our member companies stand ready to cooperate as partners on the roll-out.

Medical staff from several of our hospital and clinic members are already working with local health authorities on vaccination efforts, and are ready and willing to partner as needed in coming months to provide services directly, particularly in Q3 and Q4, when we expect the bulk of the vaccine deliveries to arrive.

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