Vietnam’s COVID-19 vaccine supply has been hit hard by vaccine production delays, with new vaccine deliveries moved to later dates.
The country, which started its inoculation program on March 8, is relying solely on the 117,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines delivered in late February from South Korea.
A government statement sent to Reuters reads, “COVID-19 vaccine supplies for Vietnam have been impacted by the complicated developments of the coronavirus pandemic in the world”. The statement also emphasized the need to diversify vaccine sources amid global supply problems.
Vietnam’s Drug Administration has asked importers to try to secure as soon as possible safe vaccines from more sources, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Russia’s Sputnik V, Moderna and China’s Sinovac, the Vietnamese government said.
The vaccines currently used to inoculate frontline workers are part of the initial order of 204,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which was given import emergency approval by the Ministry of Health after the new local cases in Hai Duong province were discovered in January.
Russian-made Sputnik V has just been approved for emergency use on March 23.
The country previously announced that it would acquire 150 million vaccine doses from different manufacturers and through the COVAX program of the World Health Organization. At least 60 million doses have been expected to be delivered and used this year, with the first 1.2 million doses from COVAX to arrive in the first quarter.
However, UNICEF on Wednesday confirmed that vaccines slated to arrive today, March 25, will be delayed until mid-April. A total of 811,200 AstraZeneca vaccines — fewer than the original plan of 1.1 million doses — are scheduled to reach Vietnam in the next three weeks. Three million more will be arriving by the end of May, pending operations and supply constraints.
“We have clearly communicated with the Vietnamese officials that the scenario changes every day and therefore a firm commitment can only be given within 24 hours prior to the shipment arriving,” UNICEF representative Rana Flowers told Viet Nam News.
The UNICEF official added that the COVAX Facility is confident they will be able to deliver the full commitment of 30 million doses this year to realize its promise of giving enough doses for 20% of the population, but the detailed delivery timeline after May is not yet available.
The director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology also revealed that the 29.8 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines that the Vietnamese government had purchased will also not be delivered on time. The first shipments were initially planned for the second and third quarter of 2021.
Gap in global preparedness
Vaccine development, distribution and inoculation have been a struggle in most countries, not just in Vietnam, as manufacturing and logistic disruptions widen.
Large-scale production of vaccines for a new disease is no easy task. Manufacturers use different approaches, including lab-produced cell cultures and using messenger RNA, which are dependent on different factors. Typically, according to The Guardian, a production facility for vaccines can take six to nine months to get going. But the likes of AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna had to speed up the process to be able to deliver vaccines to worst-hit nations.
The biggest issue is with "yields", which depend on the health of the underlying cell culture. Any quality control issues relating to temperature, humidity or compromised sterility can lead to less vaccine produced at the end of the process, an issue that has been seen at some AstraZeneca production facilities around the world, reads The Guardian article on the reason behind vaccine delays.
Even Pfizer, which uses a more straightforward way to produce vaccines, is experiencing a bottleneck in its production. The article detailed that the newness of the mRNA technology means that key ingredients such as “fatty bubbles and the nucleotides required for the vaccine soup” have been in short supply. Not to mention that manufacturing facilities built to the highest biosecurity standards are also not widely available.
Experts warned that while the world’s pharmaceutical industry has made milestone achievements in eradicating previous global outbreaks, the industry is not prepared for this kind of pandemic, nor is it structured for the kind of integrated global effort required in today’s situation.
“I really do think people were so focused on the vaccines, they didn’t think further about what needs to come with it to make happen,” Liz Breen, an academic at the University of Bradford, said.