Vietnam leaders stress equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines

By Viet Tuan, Chi Le   May 31, 2021 | 07:36 am PT
Vietnam leaders stress equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines
A medical worker holds a vial containing a Covid-19 vaccine dose by AstraZeneca in Hanoi's National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, March 8, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Allowing benefactors of a Covid-19 vaccine fund to have their employees or nominees vaccinated first would be problematic, Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said Monday.

Vietnam has recently approved the establishment of a Covid-19 vaccine fund to raise contributions from various sources, including cash and vaccine doses from benefactors all around the globe. Businesses and organizations can also lend a hand in this effort.

However, the request of several organizations and businesses to let their employees and members be vaccinated first as they have already contributed to the fund was difficult to process, Long said at a meeting on the procurement, distribution and administering of Covid-19 vaccines with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam. He cited a global shortage of vaccines and concerns about equitable access to it.

Deputy PM Dam said while Vietnam has always abided by the United Nations principles on equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, the country can still satisfy donors to the vaccine fund by prioritizing those most vulnerable, like workers in factories, banks or hotels where close contact between people is frequent.

The health ministry also said at the meeting that it does not monopolize the import of Covid-19 vaccines, but cautioned about the possibility of fraud by individuals and organizations presenting themselves as approved agents of vaccine makers.

Any locality or business wishing to access Covid-19 vaccines can contact either the health ministry or the 27 firms that have already been authorized to import them, it said.

All Covid-19 vaccines must be approved and registered by the health ministry, said Long. Vietnam has already approved two foreign Covid-19 vaccines: one produced by British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and the other, Sputnik V, produced by Russia.

Regarding clinical trials, Long said it would only take the health ministry 48 hours at most to evaluate vaccine trials through profiles and documents.

Meanwhile, Deputy PM Dam said any Covid-19 vaccine approved by the WHO can still be imported to Vietnam even if manufacturers have yet to file for approval and registration.

Vaccine makers yet to be approved by the WHO, but green lighted in other countries can seek expedited approval from the health ministry, he said.

Long said this was plausible and the ministry would take five days at most to approve such vaccines, adding that as long as imported vaccines have enough documents to verify their origins and quality, they would be put to use immediately by the ministry.

The ministry will also issue guidelines for urgent distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, ensuring that all businesses are allowed opportunities to secure Covid-19 vaccine sources at the earliest, Long assured..

Besides importing Covid-19 vaccines, Vietnam is also developing four on its own. These are produced by the Nanogen Pharmaceutical Biotechnology JSC, the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals, Vaccine and Biological Production Company No. 1, and Polyvac.

Nanocovax, the vaccine produced by Nanogen, is expected to enter its third phase of human trials with 13,000 volunteers starting next month. The vaccine could be approved for emergency use during the trials, expected to end in September, if the government approves it, said Deputy Health Minister Do Xuan Tuyen.

Vietnam has already begun its mass Covid-19 vaccination program using the AstraZeneca vaccines, prioritizing certain categories like frontline workers in the pandemic fight. So far, over 1.03 million people have been vaccinated, of whom over 28,500 have received two shots.

The country aims to secure 150 million Covid-19 vaccine doses this year to cover 70 percent of its population, achieving herd immunity by the end of this year, according to the health ministry.

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