Westerners in Vietnam caught up in developing countries' vaccine frustrations

By Viet Anh   July 19, 2021 | 08:30 pm PT
Westerners in Vietnam caught up in developing countries' vaccine frustrations
A health worker prepares to administer Covid-19 vaccine on a man in HCMC, June 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
People from other countries living in Vietnam have expressed disappointment their governments have not sent Covid-19 vaccines for them, especially during the unpredictable new wave.

Last week the French Ambassador to Vietnam announced plans to vaccinate all French citizens aged above 18 and their spouses.

"The news from the French embassy shows their government took a different approach from ours; this is what makes it extremely frustrating for me and my German friends here," Emma Schmidt (changed name) said when asked about Germany's vaccination policy for its citizens in Vietnam.

She understood that the focus was on vaccinating people in Germany, but now everyone there who wants to get vaccinated could do so while Germans living in Vietnam could not, she said.

She heads a company’s representative office in HCMC, but her contract is in Germany, she pays double taxes and also for health insurance in Germany, she said.

"Since vaccines are not available on the private market, it is the government's obligation to distribute them to citizens."

She sent a request to the German embassy in Vietnam and Foreign Ministry, but received a "disappointing response" that wanted her to return home to get vaccinated.

Besides, reading that some vaccine batches in her country had been destroyed because they had expired made her "angry," she said.

Dave Tonetti, a Canadian living in Vietnam, said he was "sorry" his country does not seem to have done as much as others with regard to providing vaccines for its citizens abroad.

He described as "excellent" the news that France would provide vaccines to its citizens in Vietnam.

In June, when the Covid outbreak was rapidly worsening in HCMC, he had asked the Canadian consulate about the prospects of providing vaccines for its citizens. He was told, "The government of Canada is not in a position to supply vaccines for Canadians abroad."

Dave Tonetti is in HCMC in 2019. Photo courtesy of Dave Tonetti.

Dave Tonetti is in HCMC in 2019. Photo courtesy of Dave Tonetti.

He said: "Canada admitted it is incapable of trying to protect its citizens abroad, much less other people."

Canada, as a wealthy country, should be producing and providing vaccines around the world, he added.

At the same time he knew that some Canadian companies in Vietnam had vaccinated their employees.

He sent another email to the Canadian government on July 16 asking it to follow France's lead in providing vaccines to its citizens in Vietnam.

Briton Peter Stanley said he is disappointed and "somewhat ashamed" of the U.K.’s response, or "rather, lack of response" to the British expatriate community’s concerns about Covid vaccination.

Information from its embassy is almost non-existent, which is not helpful, he said.

However, it does not come as any great surprise to him because he has spent many years working overseas, he said scathingly.

France is doing the right thing, and would be respected for it, he said.

"I expect that the U.K. accepts its responsibilities to its expatriate community, and acts on their behalf."

Leigh Doughty, another Briton living in Vietnam, said he realized he and his compatriots in Vietnam "are not the U.K.'s main concern" regarding vaccination.

"On a self-serving level, I would love to see the U.K. send vaccines if they have a surplus, but I wouldn't hold my breath on it."

He heard some British citizens have been vaccinated through their schools, hopes the school where he works would vaccinate its employees soon.

As a taxpayer in Vietnam, he said it would be nice if the Vietnamese government vaccinates foreigners, pointing out the British government vaccinates foreigners.

Leigh Doughty in HCMC in March 2021. Photo by Leigh Doughty.

Leigh Doughty in HCMC in March 2021. Photo by Leigh Doughty.

Australian Charles Johnson (changed name) said it is "disappointing" he has not been vaccinated while some of his compatriots in HCMC have.

The Australian government "appeared to ignore the plight of their own expatriate Australians living in Vietnam" though it agreed to supply 1.5 million doses of Covid vaccines to Vietnam.

He wanted the Vietnamese government to ensure all Australians are given shots from this shipment.

It is estimated there are 22,000 Australians living and working in Vietnam.

However, he is confident that Vietnamese authorities are fully committed to getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible, and so has no plans to return to Australia to get the vaccine.

He hoped that an online site in English for foreigners to register for vaccination would soon be up.

Worry about the new wave

Since the fourth wave started in Vietnam late April, the country has recorded 56,479 infections, including nearly 36,000 cases in the worst-hit HCMC.

More than 4.3 million of the country's 96-million population have received Covid-19 vaccines, but only 309,791 have gotten two doses.

The country aims to vaccinate 70 percent of its people by April next year, and to do that, it has been seeking for support in vaccine supplies and technology transfers from various countries such as Canada, India, Israel, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.

Schmidt said she does worry about the pandemic in HCMC.

Amid the social distancing, Schmidt is hesitant to go to a hospital though she has a toothache. She does not want to take a taxi or possibly interact with police officers en route because she is afraid of getting infected during her pregnancy.

She and her partner postponed their marriage because of the pandemic while many of her friends have cancelled various other events due to stress and anxiety.

"I am waiting for a vaccine to carry out plans in the near future."

She said she knows the government is trying hard to get vaccines and contain the new wave, but guessed it could take two months. To protect herself, Schmidt wears a mask whenever she goes out and keeps a distance from others.

Tonetti said he is concerned about Covid, and is even more worried because there are people who do not see how serious it is. In fact, the case load is increasing, the health system is stretched and doctors, nurses and technicians are working to exhaustion.

With the low percentage of vaccination, he fears the virus has the potential to spread and continue mutating into more problematic variants.

But he still hoped the Vietnamese government and international partners would keep working toward making vaccinations more widely available.

Stanley said he only worries that the health system could be overwhelmed if the situation continues to worsen. But, having lived in the country for a long time, he said he is confident Vietnam and its people would overcome this situation.

Vietnam is willing to treat foreigners equally despite all the problems it currently faces, which is "heartening," he said.

Doughty too said he has faith that Vietnam would overcome its difficulties.

"I have my fears and concerns like every other person, but I try to go forward with optimism and trust that it will turn out just fine."

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