A total of 811,200 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX program arrived in the capital city of Hanoi on Thursday morning.
Deputy Health Minister Do Xuan Tuyen, UNICEF representative Rana Flowers and World Health Organization representative Nam Kidong Park received the vaccines at Noi Bai International Airport.
The shipment, originally planned to arrive on March 25, was delayed due to shortages. Vietnam also initially expected 1.37 million doses from COVAX, a global initiative led by WHO and other organizations to ensure fair access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.
UNICEF, which is in charge of the purchase and delivery of the vaccines through COVAX, admitted that there have been production constraints affecting deliveries around the world. Vietnam is the 73rd country to receive vaccines through the initiative.
According to Rana Flowers, the amount of doses available from the vaccine producers needs to be equally distributed among the countries.
"We are delighted that the vaccines will now go to the heroic health workers who have been supporting Việt Nam to stay so safe over the COVID-19 pandemic period," the UNICEF official told Viet Nam News.
"It is the case that the vaccine producers in India are also struggling to meet the demand, as there is a severe outbreak within India, and therefore they are seeking to protect their people. We do not anticipate that this will be a long delay. We have contractual arrangements with all of the vaccine providers to make sure that they are providing the vaccines as contracted earlier this year," Flowers explained.
The new vaccines bring Vietnam’s number of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 928,000. The first 117,600 doses that arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on February 24 have already been administered to frontline health workers and other priority groups when the vaccination program started last month.
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 are expected to be delivered and used this year.
With global production of vaccines interrupted, Vietnam’s health ministry is looking to diversify its procurement. It is in talks with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and is aiming to put its first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine in use by 2022.
Vietnam already approved the Russian-made Sputnik V for emergency use on March 23. It’s also expected to approve China's Sinovac in the coming weeks.
International vaccine cooperation
On Wednesday, the Vietnamese Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long held talks with Chinese, Indian and Russian diplomats on vaccine cooperation.
Minister Long said that the country is reviewing protocols to fast-track foreign COVID-19 vaccine approval for emergency use and cut back administrative procedures to ensure that vaccines are delivered as fast as possible. He noted that the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is still the government’s top priority.
Vietnam seeks China’s support on vaccine supply to ensure coverage for high-risk groups and for Vienamese citizens who plan to work or study in China.
Indian Ambassador to Vietnam Pranay Verma said his country is also lending help in conducting phase 3 human trials of Vietnamese-made vaccines, which need thousands of volunteers.
India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, currently manufactures AstraZeneca vaccines and its own Covaxin. However, with India burdened by more than 12 million coronavirus infections, it has already announced that it’s delaying big vaccine exports worldwide, including to COVAX.
The two countries have instead agreed to step up investment cooperation in Vietnam’s pharmaceutical industry.
Minister Counselor of the Russian Embassy Bublikov Vadim, meanwhile, reiterated that Russia is willing to implement deals regarding Sputnik V. Vietnam earlier proposed to manufacture the vaccine right in Vietnam.
UN experts have repeatedly called for increased global cooperation to facilitate COVID-19 distribution, as nearly 95% of vaccines produced thus far have gone to 10 wealthy countries.
“COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge which can only be effectively addressed through concerted global action. Lives cannot be saved and the vulnerable cannot be protected by mere rhetoric, without concrete commitment to universal and equitable vaccine access,” the experts said, adding that rich states should think of international cooperation as an obligation, not an option.