Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyễn Minh Vũ. — VNA/VNS Photo
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyễn Minh Vũ, who doubles as deputy head of the Government Working Group on Vaccine Diplomacy, talks to Vietnam News Agency about Việt Nam’s efforts to effectively implement the vaccine diplomacy task in order to fulfil the target of providing vaccines for the entire population, contributing to combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid the complicated developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for vaccines has become more urgent and the Government Working Group on Vaccine Diplomacy was established with the aim of mobilising vaccine sources. After the group was established, how has vaccine diplomacy changed?
The establishment of the Government Working Group on Vaccine Diplomacy is a timely decision of significant meaning of the Prime Minister with the aim of promoting the vaccine strategy of the Government. It also originated from the early policy of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat in ensuring rapid access to vaccine sources for people to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since its establishment, with the direction of Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, the group has worked non-stop and closely and effectively coordinated in all steps, including assessing, consulting and proposing measures and ways to mobilise and exchange with partners to have the quickest and greatest access to vaccine sources.
With contributions of the group, I think there are two important changes in vaccine diplomacy. That is the smooth and methodical coordination in implementing vaccine diplomacy at all channels and levels, particularly at the high-ranking level in getting access to bilateral and multilateral partners; together with different ways to access vaccine sources, from purchasing to accessing to multilateral vaccine mechanisms and mobilising vaccine donations.
A more important change is more vaccines arriving in Việt Nam since the group started operating.
In August, Việt Nam had around 16 million doses of vaccines but the figure increased to over 54 million doses in late September. Việt Nam is expected to have enough sources of vaccines to vaccinate the majority of the population by the end of this month.
Can you share difficulties as well as advantages in implementing vaccine diplomacy?
Ensuring the fastest sources of vaccine for nearly 100 million Vietnamese people is not an easy task. The biggest difficulty is that the supply is limited while the demand is huge. Not only Việt Nam but most developing countries also face a vaccine shortage.
Particularly, the rapid transmission of the Delta variant has caused more pressure to get access to vaccine sources for many countries at the same time. As a result, the supply fails to meet demand and vaccines become rarer.
Besides, many developed countries increased the purchase and storage of vaccines while unequal access to vaccines has not yet improved.
However, we still have advantages in implementing vaccine diplomacy. That is Việt Nam’s international position; and a wide network of friends and partners that Việt Nam has built and developed, including strategic partners, comprehensive partners and traditional friends.
That is also the important position of Việt Nam’s economy in the global supply and production chain. Therefore, many countries have strived to help the country in vaccine access to ensure there is no interruption in the supply chain.
Additionally, Việt Nam previously promoted its traditional cultural values and solidarity in the early period of the pandemic by providing international friends with face masks and medical materials and equipment to help prevent and control COVID-19. This has been highly appreciated by international friends who in return are willing to support Việt Nam in the current context.
As a Government agency managing Vietnamese representative agencies abroad as well as an agency of the Government Working Group on Vaccine Diplomacy, how has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs implemented vaccine diplomacy to fully tap these advantages?
Foreign minister Bùi Thanh Sơn, head of the working group, confirmed from the early stage that vaccine diplomacy is a focus of economic diplomacy for national development.
Inside the country, the Foreign Ministry assigned a unit to act as a coordinator with ministries and sectors and mobilise the participation of all units of the ministry in implementing vaccine diplomacy.
Outside the country, representative agencies play an important role in implementing vaccine diplomacy. They act as the frontline forces in directly getting access to and connecting vaccine sources from abroad. They have arranged hundreds of talks and working sessions between high-ranking leaders of Việt Nam as well as leaders of the ministries of health and foreign affairs with partners and international organisations on the issue.
The highest goal is to bring in more vaccines, treatment drugs and medical equipment to Việt Nam as soon as possible to serve people.
At the same time, Vietnamese representative agencies abroad coordinated with other units to organise many flights to transport vaccines to Việt Nam.
Which measures has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taken to ensure its diplomatic mission while contributing to the Government’s efforts in COVID-19 prevention and control via vaccine diplomacy?
Vaccine diplomacy is an urgent task of the diplomatic mission at present. There is a connection and support between vaccine diplomacy and other diplomatic activities.
With the spirit of promoting the pioneering role of the diplomatic sector in ensuring a peaceful and stable environment for national development while contributing to combating COVID-19, the ministry has resolutely carried out groups of measures.
The ministry has proactively adapted to the new situation to promote online diplomatic activities and gradually reconnected in-person activities. It has also focused on mobilising potential partners to support Việt Nam in the fight against COVID-19, particularly in donating vaccines, medical equipment and medicines.
The sector has sped up research and consultancy for the Government to use international experience in COVID-19 prevention and control as well as in economic development in the 'new normal'.
As a result, the diplomatic task has been implemented comprehensively, contributing to maintaining a peaceful and stable environment as well as raising the country’s prestige and gradually combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
How are the vaccine prospects for Việt Nam from now until the year end and what are orientations and focuses of vaccine diplomacy in the future?
I believe that under the direction of the Party and State together with the direct participation of Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, who also acts as head of the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control and the smooth and effective coordination of ministries and sectors in implementing vaccine diplomacy, the prospect for getting access to vaccines of Việt Nam is positive.
If partners fulfil their commitments, from now to the year end, particularly in October, the amount of vaccines arriving in Việt Nam is good.
Vaccine diplomacy in the future will focus on three main issues with top priority giving to promoting the implementation of vaccine procurement agreements signed between the Government and the Ministry of Health with partners and vaccine manufacturers around the world.
Besides, focus will be placed on continuing to promote cooperation with potential partners in getting access to new sources of vaccine to serve demand in 2022 and the following years; and on seeking partners who can provide vaccines for around 20 million Vietnamese children as well as vaccines to inoculate people with the third dose. Many countries have started offering booster shots to their population to increase the efficacy of the vaccine.
Việt Nam will also enhance technology transfer cooperation to be able to produce vaccines and have more autonomy in vaccine supply.
The COVID-19 pandemic cannot disappear quickly, so the Government has clearly defined that the pandemic prevention and control strategy must shift from “Zero COVID” to living safely with COVID. So what should we do to have stable and long-term sources of vaccine supply to ensure a new normal with COVID-19?
The World Health Organisation and many countries have said that COVID-19 will continue existing for a long time and consider it a seasonal flu.
Therefore, the Government’s decision to shift from the zero COVID strategy to living safely with COVID is reasonable and in line with the global situation and orientation.
Living with COVID requires good preparation. International experience and reality show that vaccines and treatment drugs are still decisive factors in gradually controlling the pandemic. So in the future, Việt Nam needs to get access to stable and long-term sources of vaccine supply as well as to gradually have autonomy over vaccine supply in order to ensure adaptation to the pandemic and economic recovery and development during the new normal period.
The COVID-19 pandemic still develops and changes quickly with the appearance of different variants, requiring regular updates and adjustments to preparation and control methods, testing, vaccination and treatment to ensure the highest effectiveness.
It is also necessary to increase international cooperation to ensure autonomy in vaccine supply; promote cooperation in vaccine production and technology transfer; and support the domestic production of vaccines and COVID-19 treatment drugs.
Strengthening information dissemination to raise public awareness of long-term adaptation to the pandemic to encourage them to strictly abide by COVID-19 prevention and control measures in the new normal conditions is also needed, contributing to protecting the health and safety of society. — VNS