Vietnam’s COVID-19 DilemmaJune 4, 2021 in Uncategorized
Vietnam’s initial successful control of COVID 19 put them in an enviable position. However, now, as vaccination programs progress around the world, Vietnam is going back into lockdown with less than 3% of the population vaccinated and its borders firmly closed. Until a vaccination program is begun in earnest, this situation is likely to repeat itself.
Vietnam’s initial success in stopping the spread of COVID 19 was due to early action taken by the government, and a high level of public buy-in for disease prevention methods like mask wearing. By closing the borders quickly, the government was able to construct an effective track and trace system that was not overwhelmed, and that continues to perform well. However, this initial success has left the country in a relatively unique position.
While many countries around the world have been forced to focus on vaccination programs because they have not been able to stop the spread of COVID, Vietnam has been able to take its time. Vietnam has a good record with regard to respiratory diseases being one of the first countries to contain and eliminate SARS in the early 2000s. This confidence has led to the government pinning their vaccination hopes on a locally produced vaccine. Instead of making large purchases from the US or Europe, or accepting doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, Vietnam has waited for Nanocovax, and two other local vaccines, to pass through clinical trials.
However, Vietnam is now experiencing its largest COVID outbreak in both the north and south of the country and the Vietnamese government faces a difficult decision. As the Indian variant, and a potential hybrid “Vietnamese” variant, spreads faster than before, the government must decide if they can afford to wait, or if they should purchase vaccines from overseas.
In early June the government committed to purchasing 120 million does in 2021, for a population of 100 million people. Small purchases of AstraZeneca and Sputnik V have been made already, and there are plans to produce Sputnik V and Pfizer-BioNTech in country. But these avenues are unlikely to be productive until 2022. The Chinese Sinopharm vaccine is potentially a solution to Vietnam’s problem, but so far Vietnam is the only nation in Southeast Asia not to accept the Chinese vaccine, with it only just receiving approval for use in the country. Generally speaking, the Vietnamese public are sceptical about Chinese intentions, and there is a large amount of anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the country and in the government.
If Vietnam is able to stop their current outbreak quickly, then they may be able to withstand pressure to purchase large amounts of vaccines from overseas and wait for their own to finish trials. But if the virus continues to spread, they will have little choice but to invest significantly in purchasing vaccines. If their purchases include the Sinopharm vaccine it will be interesting to see how the government sells the vaccine to the Vietnamese public, and if that has any effect on the number of people willing to be vaccinated.