Vietnam steps on the gas to foster fresh vaccine access

August 25, 2021 | 14:17
An escalation of the health crisis is showing no signal of stoppage, prompting the central government to beef up the country’s vaccine-related diplomacy activities in order to soon bring the economy back to rapid and sustainable growth.
Vietnam steps on the gas to foster fresh vaccine access
The Working Group on Vaccine Diplomacy discussed solutions to ensure sufficient remedies for Vietnam

Last Monday, just two days after the government’s Working Ggroup on Vaccine Diplomacy was established, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) convened the group’s first meeting, with a consensus that there must be as many COVID-19 vaccines arriving in Vietnam as possible over the next couple of months.

“We will continue highlighting the content of mobilising vaccines, drugs, and medical equipment as a prime priority in all diplomatic activities of the country’s top leaders and leaders of ministries from now until the year’s end,” said MoFA Minister Bui Thanh Son. “It is also considered the most important task in activities of all Vietnamese representative agencies overseas. We cannot miss any vaccine opportunities.”

Over the past few weeks, Vietnam has witnessed an average of over 9,000 COVID-19 new cases a day – forcing many production factories, enterprises, and industrial zones to halt operations, and seriously affecting the economy’s development as well as people’s livelihoods.

As part of the country’s vaccine strategy, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on August 13 promulgated Decision No.1399/QD-TTg on founding the government’s Working Group on Vaccine Diplomacy with a view to bringing more vaccines to the country. The group is led by Minister Son and supported by leaders of the other ministries of health, defence, public security, and science and technology; and the Government Office.

The group is tasked to look for and quicken negotiations, mobilisation, imports, and the reception of vaccines, drugs, and medical supplies against COVID-19. It is also to boost the transfer of vaccine technology from bilateral and multilateral partners while providing consultancy and proposals to the prime minister. The group is also tasked to appraise foreign partners and information about possibilities of vaccine supply and medicine, and related technology.

“We are in critical need of vaccines to combat COVID-19,” said PM Chinh at the government’s recent meeting on the pandemic and national socioeconomic development in the year so far. “There may be a scarcity of vaccines from now until October worldwide. That’s why we must implement vaccine diplomacy.”

He has personally contacted and held talks with more than 20 leaders of countries and international organisations with vaccines being high on the agenda.

Given the increasingly complicated pandemic and the appearance of new variants with higher spread, the Vietnamese government has determined that access to as many vaccine sources as possible and acceleration of large-scale inoculation is urgent.

Under Vietnam’s vaccine strategy, the top priority is to find vaccine sources from outside of Vietnam, followed by building up international cooperation in tech transfer for vaccine production. The next priority is to produce homemade vaccines.

Vietnam is in need of about 170 million vaccine doses to inoculate 70 per cent of its population by June 2022.

Intensifying work

Last week, Polish Ambassador to Vietnam Wojciech Gerwel met with PM Chinh in Hanoi, saying that Poland has decided to transfer three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and grant over 501,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Vietnam, immediately after receiving a letter from PM Chinh to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asking for help. Poland will also donate medical equipment and supplies worth $4 million, to be delivered to Ho Chi Minh City on August 25, Gerwel added.

One week ago, PM Chinh met with Japanese Ambassador to Vietnam Yamada Takio. He thanked the Japanese government and people for their valuable assistance to Vietnam in the fight against COVID-19, especially their donation of millions of vaccines doses.

He asked Ambassador Yamada to propose to the government and related agencies of Japan that they continue providing vaccines to Vietnam, and promote cooperation in the production and transfer of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment drug production technology to the country.

Yamada reaffirmed that the Japanese government, which recently provided Vietnam with three million AstraZeneca doses, advocates providing assistance in all aspects for Vietnam in the current situation.

Meanwhile, many other nations and organisations have extended their vaccine support to Vietnam.

The French Embassy to Vietnam over a week ago said that the French government will present Vietnam with 670,000 AstraZeneca doses via the COVAX Facility, which allows well-supplied countries to share vaccine doses with other countries to help protect the most at-risk populations globally. “The support for the nationwide vaccination campaign currently under implementation by the Vietnamese government is within the bilateral strategic partnership between France and Vietnam. This contribution demonstrates France’s solidarity with Vietnam, while also meeting the proposals advanced at high-level talks between French and Vietnamese leaders,” said a statement from the embassy.

In Asia, Vietnam is the second nation after Indonesia to get vaccine support from France. In mid-June during online talks, French PM Jean Castex and PM Chinh agreed to share experience in the pandemic fight, help each other with COVID-19 vaccines, and coordinate an economic recovery after the pandemic.

Also over a week ago, Hungary’s government decided to present Vietnam with 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses and 100,000 rapid test kits.

“The Hungarian government’s support for Vietnam with vaccines and test kits is a treasured deed which is a testament to the fine comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and Hungary over the past over 70 years. It also shows both nations’ mutual sharing amid difficulties and determination to push back the pandemic,” said a MoFA statement.

In another case, during their online talks on August 9, PM Chinh and his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis vowed to cement bilateral cooperation in COVID-19 combat.

The Vietnamese leader suggested the Czech government transfer their unused vaccines to Vietnam, help it access other sources of vaccines as soon as possible, and assist the Southeast Asian country with medical supplies. PM Babis said the Czech Republic stands ready to support Vietnam in this regard, including the transfer of 500,000 vaccine doses and a number of rapid test kits.

In late July, Vietnam received over three million Moderna vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility by the US government, of which nearly 1.5 million doses arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and over 1.5 million doses came to Hanoi. This was the second batch of Moderna vaccines to arrive in the country that month, bringing the total donation from the US government to more than five million doses.

Vaccine acquisition

In addition to receiving vaccine support from outside, the Vietnamese government has also been boosting the purchase of vaccines from suppliers. As of last week, the total quantity of vaccines under contracts between Vietnam and foreign suppliers is 101 million doses.

Last Thursday, PM Chinh urged AstraZeneca to accelerate contracted vaccine delivery to Vietnam, during his phone call with the firm’s CEO Pascal Soriot. Under a deal signed between Vietnam Vaccine JSC and AstraZeneca, the latter will provide 30 million doses to Vietnam. To date, 5.5 million doses been delivered to the country. On August 14, the government issued Resolution No.90/NQ-CP on purchasing nearly 20 million doses from Pfizer.

Thus, the country has received more than 20 million vaccine doses from many sources.

It is expected that Vietnam will receive another three million in August and another 9.3 million doses in September from different sources. In the fourth quarter of 2021, there may be about 60 million doses coming to Vietnam, according to Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam.

It is also expected that Vietnam will be able to produce and administer its own vaccines in September. The country currently has two homegrown vaccines near completion: Nanocovax by Nanogen Pharmaceutical Biotechnology JSC, and Covivac by the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals.

“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,” said Adam Sitkoff, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi. “Government officials are working hard to ensure large quantities of vaccine arrive here at the soonest possible date.”

However, he added, people need to be realistic and recognise that Vietnam is a long way from community immunity. “In the meantime, people should follow Vietnam’s COVID-19 prevention measures, stay vigilant, and use common sense,” Sitkoff said.

As of last week over 16 million vaccine doses had been administered in Vietnam, which has a population of around 98 million people.

By Thanh Thu

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