December 29, 2021
Since early this year, Vietnam has actively pushed to receive, borrow or buy vaccines - a key tool in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic - from many international partners, organizations, and overseas Vietnamese. As of December, the country has received around 150 million doses of vaccine from COVAX, donations, and its own orders.
The result comes from vaccine diplomacy and its executors. One of them, Vietnamese Ambassador to Australia Nguyen Tat Thanh, shared his efforts in accessing vaccine sources with The Hanoi Times.
The story began in April 2020, when Vietnam donated medical equipment to many countries, including Australia, as they were at the height of the pandemic. More than a year later, the situation has reversed. Vietnam is seeking vaccine supplies from everywhere through “vaccine diplomacy" since the country was hit by the fourth wave of pandemic in May 2021.
In putting into effect this vaccine diplomacy, staff at the Vietnamese embassy in Australia have spared no efforts to knock on all doors that could lead to vaccines access, either government agencies and businesses. We were introduced by many individuals and organizations in Australia to potential suppliers.
Even though a local biotechnology company secured a contract to manufacture 50 million doses of AstraZeneca in Victoria, it’s the only one company in the country eligible to manufacture vaccine and works under expected production due to the lack of material. Otherwise, though the vaccine is in stock, it is under the government plan for second dose to Australians or to support the Pacific island.
Drawing on experiences learned from other countries, we know that the only way to access vaccines is through the federal government.
So from May 2021, we requested the central level agencies in Vietnam to make contact with their Australian peers, while we actively worked with Australian federal government in Canberra to get access to the vaccine.
Australia has now committed to sharing over 7.8 million doses with Vietnam in total, as well as the countries cooperation with UNICEF to upgrade vaccine storage equipment, train medical personnel and deploy vaccinations in remote areas of Vietnam.
What's more, Vietnam and Australia have traditionally supported each other since establishing diplomatic relations nearly half a century ago. Since the signing of the Strategic Partnership in 2018, this fine tradition has been further promoted.
Based on this foundation and the efforts of the embassy staff, Vietnam became the first ASEAN member country to receive Australia's vaccine support.
I believe that, in addition to the committed quantity, Australia will continue to support us in the near future with vaccines as well as medical equipment through direct donations as well as by means of multilateral mechanisms.
Vietnam received a batch of 30,000 vaccine doses from Papua New Guinea, donated to the country by New Zealand.
I was appointed concurrent ambassador to five countries, including Papua New Guinea (PNG). Knowing that the country had a number of vaccines that could not be used before the expiration date, I discussed with John Ma'o Kali - High Commissioner for Papua New Guinea in Canberra - about the possibility of borrowing it. He asked me to send an official diplomatic note. It’s the last Sunday of August. After receiving the note, he texted me: "Brother, I will handle it immediately".
However, the procedure was very complicated. In order for the vaccine to be shipped out of a country, it needs the consent of the recipient country (Vietnam), the nod of the donor country, New Zealand and approval of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Thanks to the active support of the Vietnamese Embassy in New Zealand, GAVI, WHO and UNICEF, the whole procedure was completed within 10 days and 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca arrived free of charge in Ho Chi Minh City.
In the midst of the world vaccine crisis, some developing countries receive timely support, while many others face serious shortages. Vietnam received early support from many countries thanks to our proactive implementation of vaccine diplomacy at all levels, especially the senior level, and close coordination between relevant ministries.
The region and the world context is already complicated and the Covid-19 pandemic makes it more serious. However, if in the past war, we only received support from socialist countries, this time, support to Vietnam would come from many nations. This is thanks to our foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, befriending all countries over the past decades.
The Australian government and people are sympathetic to Vietnam. When learning that we are in trouble, many people come in support, but there are also people who cannot understand why the Delta variant can have such a terrible impact in Vietnam, where Covid-19 was contained for more than one year.
In that time, I am very grateful to an Australian member of Parliament who come to the Embassy to offer support. Especially, the Speaker of the House of Representatives visited me at home and shared information about vaccines.
Broadly speaking, in current global Covid-19 pandemic, I think that vaccines is invaluable asset because it can save life. Every country puts their national interests first, so inequality in vaccine access is inevitable.
Therefore, in the long term, Vietnam should, on the one hand, promote vaccine diplomacy, on the other hand, find ways to research and produce home-grown vaccines ourselves so as for the country to be self-sufficient of vaccine. As a responsible member of the international community, Vietnam has been and will make practical contributions to the efforts of the world to fight the pandemic.
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