Vietnam is stepping up its fight against COVID-19 with the first batch of vaccine inoculations set in March. The vaccination program will prioritize frontline healthcare workers and high-risk groups.
A total of 204,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are due to arrive on Sunday, February 28, just weeks after the Vietnamese government approved the vaccine for emergency use. Vietnam is rushing to contain a new outbreak that emerged in the northern region late January.
Vietnam’s over 500,000 healthcare personnel continue to be at the forefront of the country’s battle against the health crisis, putting them at high risk of exposure to the deadly virus. Given the critical role they play, keeping the healthcare workers safe and healthy is a national priority.
"The first wave of Covid-19 vaccinations, prioritizing frontline medical workers and high-risk groups, will begin in March right after the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrives and passes quality checks," the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
The government announced Tuesday morning that aside from health workers, diplomats and military personnel would also be among the first groups to be vaccinated next month. Next in line are teachers, people working in aviation and tourism, people aged 65 and above, those with chronic diseases, well as those working in essential services like transport.
The country expects to receive at least 60 million doses this year, including 30 million under the World Health Organization COVAX scheme.
The first 1.2 million doses from COVAX will arrive in the first quarter of the year for healthcare workers; over 3.6 million doses in the second quarter, which will be given to customs officers, diplomats, soldiers, police officers and teachers; and around 33 million more in the second half of 2021 for senior citizens, residents with serious illnesses, and those working in aviation, tourism and transport industries.
Vietnam targets to have at least 70% of its nearly 100 million population inoculated.
The government’s also in talks with Russian and US vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna on supply agreements, as it waits for home-grown vaccines to be approved and ready for mass production.
As of today, Vietnam has already recorded 803 infections since the January 28 outbreak that started in the province of Hai Duong, taking the total tally to 2,392, with 1,717 recoveries and 35 deaths.
Vaccine storage facilities now ready
With only a few days before the first batch of coronavirus vaccines arrives in the country, Vietnam is making sure it has the right storage facilities to ensure the vaccines’ highest quality.
Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC), which is licensed to operate three ultra-cold facilities to store the vaccines, said it had imported equipment and built an ultra-cold chain storage system, according to a report from VnExpress. The refrigerators have already been set up in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang.
Capable of storing up to three million doses of vaccines at a time, the three deep-negative cold storage facilities are the first and only unit in Vietnam that met the requirements of vaccine preservation standards. The storage systems are also equipped with local and online temperature monitoring systems, as well as alarm systems linked via GSM.
AstraZeneca vaccines, which are the first to arrive and be used in the country, need to be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius, giving it a major advantage in logistics over other vaccines. The vaccines can also be stored for at least six months and can be administered in existing healthcare settings.
When the vaccines arrive at Hanoi’s Noi Bai and Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat airports, they will be transported to general warehouses via specialized refrigerated vehicles. VNVC has a total of 50 vaccination centers, more than 50 GSP-compliant vaccine warehouses and 5,000 medical professionals to facilitate the vaccination program.
Nitin Kapoor, Chairman and General Director of AstraZeneca Vietnam, said, “We are grateful for the Vietnamese government and MoH's decisive leadership in this fight against the pandemic. Patient safety of the vaccine is of the utmost importance to AstraZeneca and it is great news that it meets the stringent requirements established by the ministry. We are proud to partner with VNVC, with their extensive network and outstanding capabilities in Vietnam, to deliver our vaccine to millions of people across the country in the safest and fastest way possible. We will continue to provide broad and equitable access to our vaccine so that we can quickly combat the pandemic and accelerate economic recovery.”