Pleasant vaccination surprise for 'thankful' HCMC expats

By Viet Anh   August 9, 2021 | 04:30 pm PT
Brazilian Marcos Campos registered to get vaccinated early July at his residential building in District 4, HCMC. He guessed he'd get a call in about four months.

"To my surprise, I found my name in the list of confirmations on the morning of August 5 for getting vaccinated the same day," Campos told VnExpress International.

Several hours later, the IT consultant walked for about five minutes from his building to a nearby school, ready to wait in line for sometime. But the line was short. He showed his identification, received a form and got his first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The process took around one hour.

Campos said he was really thankful for "Vietnam's generosity in offering vaccination to foreigners.'' He felt safer and continued to follow social distancing measures, he added.

Campos is among a short list of foreigners who've got a shot of the Covid-19 vaccine under HCMC's mass vaccination campaign. HCMC, the most affected Vietnamese locality by far, has been speeding its vaccination campaign in its fight against the pandemic at a time the nation is yet to procure all the vaccine doses it needs.

Marcos Campos has his certification after getting vaccine on August 5, District 4, HCMC. Photo courtesy of Campos

Marcos Campos shows a certificate after getting an AstraZeneca vaccine shot in District 4, HCMC, on August 5, 2021. Photo courtesy of Marcos Campos.

In District 7, the scheduling was even quicker for Lui Sieh, a Taiwanese American. He had registered with a local church on August 3 and was scheduled for his first shot just two days later. He said this was "very unexpected."

However, he faced some difficulties. On the afternoon of the first day at an amusement park, he and his friend had to wait for two hours but could not get the shot because the site was overloaded. Sieh was told to leave and return the next day.

On August 6, he got the first jab of Moderna vaccine after a procedure of two hours.

Sieh said people "in a long wait" were stressed and anxious that their place in the line would be taken by others. While health workers wearing blue suits came to rearrange the lines with registration lists, he felt the number of staff was "too few to manage so many people."

Later, he was told that police with green uniforms came to help manage the operation and things became more efficient.

"Having a vaccine shot is a big relief for me. I feel very lucky and fortunate," Sieh said, adding that he knew many others have to wait for a longer time.

At the same location, but at a different time, Sieh's wife got the AstraZeneca vaccine. She’d missed the chance at her school twice because of misinformation and high blood pressure.

Sieh could see that his apartment managers were glad that they both got the first shot because it was "less of a problem for them."

After getting his shot, Sieh received another appointment from the local government via SMS and he tried to notify that his slot should be canceled.

Vietnam has received about 19 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines of various types - AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, and Sinopharm. The country has given vaccines to around nine million people, although only one million or 1 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.

In HCMC, around 21 percent of people have received their first doses and 1 percent both doses.

Covid-19 vaccines are administered at a vaccination point in Thu Duc, HCMC, August 1, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Covid-19 vaccines are administered at a vaccination point in Thu Duc, HCMC, August 1, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

German Emma Schmidt (changed name), said she and her company's staff had to wait for nearly two months to get the vaccine at the beginning of August. They got the shots from the Vietnamese government, not from their consulate, she said.

Schmidt was notified about the vaccination date at a hospital the evening before. She said the process was well organized though it took around three hours.

She was happy to have got the AstraZeneca vaccine that is approved in Europe, and that she was able to meet her team after not seeing them since June. However, she was sad that some of her colleagues who were in quarantine could not be vaccinated. They have to register for it in their residential areas.

Schmidt said she hoped that rich countries will continue to donate vaccines and that the current trend will not be damped by the new plans of some countries to provide booster shots, when many people in the world haven't even received their first shot yet.

She has learnt from the German embassy in Hanoi that Germany is the second highest donor to the Covax alliance and is supporting countries like Vietnam through this facility. She felt Germany should donate doses close to expiry to countries, including Vietnam.

On the morning of July 29, American Timothy Bandors, living in District 4, got a text message from the government informing that he can get vaccinated that day. His school had registered his name for getting vaccinated and with teachers on the priority list, his turn came up soon.

It felt surreal as he went to the vaccination site in his school's car with colleagues. Every shop was closed, roads were empty, except for a few beggars he spotted. After going through several checkpoints, they arrived at a school. He joined the queue with others. "I felt a little out of place being the only foreigner in line."

Bandors developed high fever after he had a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine and it took five days to return to normal. He was relieved, though.

"If I had reacted so badly to just the vaccine, I could have had a terrible fate if I was infected with the virus."

British teacher Chad Dave also had arrangements made by his school and got the AstraZeneca vaccine in late June. He was able to get to the site on his motorbike because the city was not under social distancing then.

Dave said he felt "really happy and privileged" to get the vaccine. His job could put him into contact with hundreds of people every day, so it was important to reduce the risk of his spreading the virus to students and their older family members.

He said he felt a lot safer, but was still being careful with preventive measures.

'We should reciprocate'

Indian Radhakrishnan MB, a resident in Vietnam for more than two decades, had his first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine in District 7 on August 6. He had registered with the management of the apartment complex he stays in and the vaccination camp was held on its premises.

Radhakrishnan was not only relieved and thankful, he felt expatriates should show their gratitude to the Vietnamese government in concrete ways.

"We should reciprocate," he said, noting that he was getting vaccinated for free though he could pay for it.

He said he wanted to be the "first person" to donate money and "give back" if the Vietnamese government had a policy that allowed it.

Foreigners can participate in a "vaccination challenge" by nominating peers and creating a chain of donors, he said.

Having been part of many charity programs in Vietnam, including being a very regular blood donor, Radhakrishnan said that once he was fully vaccinated, he wanted to go from HCMC to Hanoi on a motorbike to spread the message of blood donation. It was his "dream trip," he said.

Radhakrishnan said he was also eager to return to India because he has not seen his aged mother since March last year. He planned to visit her when international travel becomes possible, he said.

Radhakrishnan MB with his vaccine certification at his building in District 7, HCMC on August 6. Photo courtesy of Radhakrishnan MB.

Radhakrishnan MB with his vaccination certifcate at his building in District 7, HCMC, on August 6, 2021. Photo courtesy of Radhakrishnan MB.

Most expats said they missed traveling within and outside Vietnam, but understood that it was not yet time to do so.

Dave said he has been closely following the rule of staying at home. In June, he self-isolated himself as an indirect contact of positive case. He felt lucky despite this because he could teach online.

After getting fully vaccinated, he wanted to visit the north, which he has not done though he has been in the country for three years, the pandemic having put a spoke in his travel plans.

Sieh said that he and his wife were thinking about some places suitable for families to go to. Their friends were considering a small trip when the semi-lockdown was over. He wished to go to the Central Highlands' Da Lat, a resort in the southern Dong Nai, and to Con Dao Island off the southern coast.

"We definitely miss traveling."

At this moment, though, he and his family and friends were praying for Vietnam to be safe. It is a difficult time for all, both Vietnamese and foreigners, he said.

Bandors said he assumed that Vietnam would allow vaccinated people more freedom to go out and was looking forward to that day. With a baby on the way, his family had no immediate travel plans.

Schmidt said she was happy to see that the vaccination campaign was accelerating in HCMC, raising hopes that things would return to normal in the future. She said the first shot certainly "gave some peace of mind" but it was too early to let her guard down. She was making no plans as long as the social distancing continues, but hoped that once the situation improved, vaccinated people could explore the country, taking suitable precautions.

Campos said he expected to get the second shot soon and for everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible. He longed for the day people can go back to normal "in the country I love."

He wanted to spend Christmas with his family if possible, Campos said. If not, he would travel internally, he said, adding, "I will wait until it is safe to travel. It's not now."

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