HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM – Vietnam is facing challenges in its COVID-19 vaccination efforts from global shortages and anti-Chinese vaccine sentiment as it tries to reach herd immunity by the end of next year’s first quarter.
“Shot or no shot?” Chau Nguyen asked her sister after spending nights thinking about whether to get vaccinated and whether to accept the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. While not a vaccine skeptic, the restaurant owner in the city’s Go Vap District worried about her health after she ultimately got the vaccination.
Her reluctance is understandable given the anti-Chinese vaccine sentiment circulating on social media; many Vietnamese worry about Chinese vaccines’ safety and efficiency.
Chau’s dilemma came as Ho Chi Minh City entered the vaccination campaign, targeting at least one shot for 70% of its population in August. The month kicked off with controversy as authorities announced a plan to purchase and use 5 million doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
On Aug. 25, Vietnam reported 12,096 new COVID-19 cases and 335 deaths, marking the seventh day in a row the country recorded more than 10,000 cases a day.
The latest number brings the total number of cases in the fourth COVID-19 wave to 377,245. The COVID-19 death tally was at 9,349.
Ho Chi Minh City continued to see spikes in COVID-19 cases. As of Aug. 25, the city reported 5,294 new cases and 266 deaths.
From March to mid-August, Ho Chi Minh City, with a population of about 10 million, vaccinated more than 4.3 million people, more than 100,000 of whom received the full two shots, Vice Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee Duong Anh Duc told reporters Aug. 13.
That group included 456,000 people over 65, a priority group getting vaccines that are still scarce in Vietnam, such as the Moderna and Pfizer shots. During that period daily vaccinations ranged up to more than 318,000.
Vietnamese people tend to accept vaccinations — a June UNICEF survey said 67% of Vietnamese are eager to be vaccinated.
There are many reasons why people in Ho Chi Minh City are encouraged to get shots, even though they acknowledge that vaccines provide only partial protection from COVID-19.
The government seems to have convinced people of the severity of COVID-19. Most of those speaking with VOA judged the current pandemic situation in Ho Chi Minh City as “dangerous.” Van Anh, 26, disagreed with the notion that the economic costs of dealing with the pandemic are worse than those of the pandemic.
Chau, the Go Vap District restaurant owner, who ended up having an AstraZeneca dose Aug. 2, told VOA local authorities called her to get a shot. She had asked whether she could refuse vaccination and was told she could, but if she became infected and spread the virus to others, she risked being fined millions of dong.
Unlike Chau, some others say being vaccinated is better than continuing under the country’s strict social distancing measures under Directive 16, which was extended for a month, starting Aug. 15.
Asked about the argument that lost jobs, closed businesses and other consequences of pandemic measures are more of a risk than dying from the pandemic, Bich Nguyen, a 30-year-old who works in the media industry, told VOA, “I 70% agree with this opinion.”
He said he has been desperate to start a probationary period for work since June 1 because the city has been locked down since May 31.
“It cost me nearly 100 million dong [about $4,400] from a purely financial aspect, but when it comes to the mental aspect, the stress, fatigue, loss of will … are immeasurable,” he said.
Thao Vu, 31, whose husband’s company has been closed since the start of the lockdown period, said that she is willing to get a shot because it is the only way to open the economy and restore social activities.
“It is necessary to realize that the pandemic will not stop just because we are in lockdown. Once we open the society and economy, there is a complete risk of an outbreak again, so we need to learn how to live with it. Long-term lockdowns only push manual workers into poverty and businesses to close, leading to social evils that will increase when people are unemployed. The consequences on the economy and social security may be more serious than the pandemic itself,” she said.
Vaccine shortages, anti-Chinese vaccine sentiment
While citizens are willing to get vaccinated, Ho Chi Minh City faces challenges that could result in interruption.
As of Aug. 12, the city had administered most of the roughly 4.3 million doses allocated by the national Health Ministry. Municipal leaders said that Ho Chi Minh City’s current vaccine strategy is to reach high coverage as soon as possible.
Regarding plans for the future, the city said it would continue to search for vaccines. It is in talks to buy 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and aims to get 2 million doses in October. In addition, it has said it has international commitments for another 750,000 doses.
The Vietnamese government established a working group on COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy Aug. 13. The working group is expected to mobilize donated vaccines, drugs for treatment and medical supplies, as well as technology transfer for vaccine and drug production from other countries.
In its first meeting on Aug. 16, group members said countries, especially developing countries, will face difficulties obtaining vaccines through the end of the year, given complexities of the global pandemic situation.
The assessment is worrisome for Ho Chi Minh City. While the city faces vaccine shortages, the local government finds it hard to take advantage of available Sinopharm vaccines because of anti-Chinese sentiment.
Van Anh, who works in the media industry, said she approves of government social distancing measures and stressed the importance of vaccines for public health purposes but said she will not accept Chinese vaccines.
Similarly, Binh Tran, a 20-year-old student who is in his second year of medical school in Ho Chi Minh City, argued that vaccines will protect people from COVID-19 but said that he would not accept Chinese vaccines because of “low immune efficiency and unreliable data.”
Anti-Chinese vaccine sentiment has prompted Vietnamese government and Ho Chi Minh City officials to repeatedly affirm that “the best vaccine is the first one,” emphasizing that vaccination is good for everyone and contributes to the pandemic fight. They have also called on people to be aware of the importance of vaccinations and ready to receive the vaccine.
Since Aug. 13, having used up the doses allocated by the Health Ministry, Ho Chi Minh City has officially administered Sinopharm vaccines while promoting access to other vaccine supplies and making use of available sources.
Earlier, on Aug. 12, the city allocated Sinopharm vaccines to its localities. Specifically, the Center for Disease Control of Ho Chi Minh City issued an order to provide 1,000-7,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine, also known as Vero Cell, per city region, a total of 44,000 doses.
Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh City Party chief Nguyen Van Nen said local authorities should tell people what type of vaccine they were getting before vaccinations. After inspecting a local COVID-19 vaccination location Aug. 13, Nen noted an instance of people expressing disappointment after receiving Chinese vaccinations.
“We should use our experience and tell people the type of vaccine in advance, so only those who accept the vaccine will go to get the shots,” he said.
Meanwhile, though, he stressed that the city has no choice regarding what vaccine to provide, saying that while the city has tried various sources, “supplies are extremely limited.”
Source: Voice of America