Vietnam to Use 500,000 Donated Chinese Vaccines in Northern Provinces
Domestic vaccine’s approval delayed on lack of scientific data.
Vietnam will administer coronavirus vaccines manufactured in China to people in the country’s nine northern provinces, becoming the final ASEAN country to accept vaccines from its northern neighbor, local media reported.
The country of 95 million people has administered about 2.4 million doses of vaccines, but only 121,683 people are fully vaccinated, or about 0.13 percent of the population.
In an RFA report published last week, experts said that the Vietnamese government had appeared reluctant to accept Chinese vaccines because of a lack of trust in them by the Vietnamese people, or because relations between Beijing and Hanoi could be slightly on the rocks.
But the VietnamNet online newspaper reported Wednesday that the Ministry of Health would administer 500,000 China-donated Sinopharm doses in the provinces of Lao Cai, Lang Son, Quang Ninh, Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Dien Bien, Cao Bang, Lai Chau and Ha Giang.
The biggest recipient would be Quang Ninh in the coastal northeast bordering China, with 230,000 doses, while coastal Thai Binh, two provinces to the south of Quang Ninh, would receive only 1,400 doses.
According to VietnamNet, the three groups prioritized to receive the vaccines first are local residents who live in the communes near the borders shared with China, those who need to carry out exchange activities or do business with China and Chinese people working and living in the provinces.
Also Wednesday, the Ministry of Health sent an urgent dispatch to Ho Chi Minh City and the nine provinces of Nam Dinh, Cao Bang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Dak Lak, Tien Giang, Lam Dong, Can Tho and Kien Giang, urging them to speed up their vaccination against the coronavirus.
To date, the vaccination rate in Ho Chi Minh and the second group of nine provinces is lower than 40 percent. Ho Chi Minh received two batches of vaccine, 74,500 doses in late May and 796,370 doses in mid-June.
Vietnam’s Vaccine Fund has raised nearly 7 trillion dong (about U.S. $300 million) to buy and administer vaccines, according to the fund’s management board.
Luu Hoang, deputy director of the board, told Vietnam News Agency (VNA) that 2 trillion dong would be used to buy vaccines in July under health ministry instructions. The remaining amount will be deposited in commercial banks.
Possible vaccine deaths
On Tuesday the Hanoi Center for Disease Control (Hanoi CDC) reported that a 26-year-old male teacher in the city’s Dong Anh district had died 39 hours after inoculation with the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by the British-Swedish AstraZeneca, the fifth such post-vaccination death in Vietnam.
A report in the health ministry’s Health and Life newspaper said that a council of experts concluded that the cause of death was unknown.
Clinical signs and forensic results showed no evidence that the death had been caused by anaphylaxis, which can rarely be caused by an allergic reaction to a vaccine, or embolism, when blood clots block arteries. Immunization and screening procedures were carried out in accordance with current regulations, the report said.
The four previous deaths wera a 35-year-old female health worker in An Giang province, a 27-year-old worker and a 46-year-old driver in Bac Giang province, and a 55-year-old officer in Binh Thuan province.
Only the case of the female health worker in An Giang was confirmed to have been caused by anaphylaxis. She died one day after vaccination.
No license for domestic vaccine
Also on Tuesday, Nanogen, the manufacturer of Vietnam’s Nanocovax vaccine, told local media that it had submitted a proposal for an urgent approval for local use to Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh as the vaccine had a 99.4 percent rate of producing immunogenic responses, but the health ministry said there was not enough scientific evidence to approve it.
“[The 99.4 precent figure is] only the immunogenicity,” Nguyen Ngo Quang, the deputy head of the Administration of Science Technology and Training under the Ministry of Health, told local media.
“We haven’t got the research results on how the immunogenicity/vaccine could reduce Covid-19 infection rates or its severity or not,” said Quang.
He also said that the vaccine had undergone two phases of clinical trials and showed great immunogenicity. However, the sample size was still too small as the company has collected samples from only several hundred people while it needs tens of thousands.
Similarly, in its third phase trial, only 1,000 people had been given the first dose of the vaccine, but it should be tested on 13,000 people as planned.
Moreover, experts would also need to evaluate the vaccine's immunogenicity and effectiveness on the 36th, 45th and 56th day following the second shot, he said.
“Those are the bases to assess the immunogenicity and efficacy of the vaccine. Therefore, it takes at least two months and needs to reach this number of samples to be qualified for evaluation,” said Quang to the Tuoi Tre newspaper.
He also said that the ministry has been strongly supporting the development of domestic vaccines to help Vietnam improve its vaccine supply as well as its vaccine autonomy. However, before giving approval to a vaccine, the Ministry must have sufficient data on its safety, immunogenicity and especially protective efficacy.
“Our goal is to protect people's health, so it is necessary to thoroughly weigh the benefits and risks. Careful approval does not mean we are trying to make it hard for businesses,’ he told Health and Life.
Vietnam has been among the most effective countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths among its 95 million people through late July 2020—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.
Since then, four separate waves of the virus swept over the country, with 13,782 confirmed cases and 69 deaths, according to statistics from the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.