The Vaccine Arrives

With Millions of Doses to Come

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On to the news.


First COVID-19 Vaccine Batch Arrives

In a huge development, 117,600 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine arrived on a Korean Air flight from Seoul at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday. (Zing had an army photographers follow the shipment from the airport to a cold storage facility.)

These doses are part of the government’s agreement to buy 30 million doses from AstraZeneca.

This is the result of a dramatically sped-up vaccine acquisition process driven by the ongoing Hai Duong-centered outbreak (more on that later). On January 8, I wrote on this very page that it “seems likely that there will be little, if any, COVID-19 vaccine availability in Vietnam this year.”

That assumption was based on news at the time, and wow was I wrong. Even this initial delivery came earlier than expected: on Tuesday, local media reported that the batch would land on Sunday, and suddenly it was here on Wednesday morning.

VnExpress has more on the vaccine outlook for the rest of the year in Vietnamese, and Viet Nam News has a detailed piece in English, but I’ll summarize here. Incredibly, the Ministry of Health is now saying that 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will reach Vietnam in seven batches this year/early next year.

  • The Wednesday batch will go to frontline workers in health facilities

  • Another 1.5 million AZ doses will arrive by the second quarter; 1.2 million through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program and 363,000 purchased directly from AZ. Remaining frontline workers (500,000 people) will receive these doses, along with diplomats (4,080 people), customs and immigration officers (9,200 people) and just over 1 million members of the military.

  • 8.2 million more AZ doses will be purchased and delivered within Q2, covering remaining military personnel, public security police officers (304,000 people), teachers (550,000 people), and people over 80 years old.

  • In Q3, 10.9 million AZ doses are expected, 3.6 million from COVAX and 7.32 million directly from AZ. These will be for anyone else over 80, essential service providers, and people with chronic diseases.

  • Through early 2022, 14.4 million more AZ doses will be distributed for remaining people with chronic illnesses.

  • By the end of this year or early next year, COVAX will supply 25.2 million doses intended for the chronically sick who haven’t already been vaccinated and people aged 65-80.

  • The remaining 90.5 million vaccine doses will come from to-be-determined foreign and domestic vaccine producers through the first half of 2022 for the rest of the 65-80 population and people over the age of 18 not covered by previous batches.

That last batch is the most uncertain, as local media has simply said that the government is still in talks with Pfizer and other foreign vaccine companies, as well as Russia for the Sputnik vaccine - though we do know that two Vietnamese companies expect to have functioning vaccines sometime this year.

If all of this goes to plan (and that is a big if), that would mean 75 million out of 97 million people in Vietnam would be vaccinated by the middle of 2022. I’m not sure what the plan is for people under 18, or for resident foreigners (though privately funded sources will surely become available at some point).

Officials have said that “in the long run” all Vietnamese will have free access to a COVID-19 vaccine, though it seems likely that people who can afford to pay will be asked to, at least at first.

Other questions remain, such as how much this is costing the government, and exactly how distribution will work: vaccine shipments will arrive in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City, where dedicated cold storage facilities have been built. Reports have said that hotspot areas will be first in line, so presumably Hai Duong will be among the first to get doses.

The priority list of 11 groups to be vaccinated released earlier in the week raised some eyebrows on social media; namely the placement of military and police personnel over the 65+ age group, which isn’t something I’ve seen elsewhere.

In any case, this has been a massive week for vaccine progress for Vietnam. Granted it will still be some time before a significant part of the population is vaccinated, but there is a lot of clarity now. I just wonder what kind of closed-door conversations are happening regarding an attendant timeline for gradually loosening entry restrictions.


The State of the Outbreak

At this stage, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak is almost entirely confined to Hai Duong, which continues to register new cases on a daily basis. A total of 820 cases of community transmission have now been detected as part of this wave, 636 of which are in Hai Duong.

A large majority of these cases have been asymptomatic, and many people are recovering quickly.

Ho Chi Minh City has gone over two weeks with no detected cases, and schools are re-opening on Monday, along with cinemas and wedding centers, but businesses such as gyms, karaoke and bars will remain closed. There was also a high-profile round of random testing at restaurants in Binh Thanh District this week.

It hasn’t been two weeks since Tet ended yet, so we’re not out of the woods in terms of fears that the holiday could spread the virus, but as of yet there aren’t signs of a problem.

As of now, it appears that Vietnam has once again largely contained a large outbreak. Hai Duong has a fairly long road ahead of it still, but most provinces are back to normal.

This VnExpress article about mothers struggling to balance childcare and jobs amid the outbreak, however, shows that not everyone is in a great position.


Extra Links:

[Photos] For a Tết Full of Rich Traditions, Head to Saigon's Hoa Community (Saigoneer)

Southeast Asia’s air conditioning is burning up the earth (Kontinentalist)

Meet Vietnam’s ‘Jungle Nanny’ (Tuoi Tre News)

What happened to Hanoi’s dog meat ban? (Southeast Asia Globe)

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