UNICEF Representative in Việt Nam Rana Flowers during her interview with the Việt Nam Government Portal. — VGP Photo
UNICEF Representative in Việt Nam Rana Flowers in an interview with the Việt Nam Government Portal recommended parents get their young children to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect against potential future waves of infections.
What are your assessments of the Government’s efforts in raising the vaccination coverage in the country?
Việt Nam has now implemented the largest-scale vaccination campaign ever attempted – and it has been very successful – reaching the target population of those above 12 years old against COVID-19.
Think back just over a year – when Việt Nam was struggling to secure an adequate supply of vaccines due to global vaccine constraints and shortages.
The Government was strategic – it used multiple channels and strategies to ensure vaccine supply, COVAX was a game changer in the early days, but the efforts to employ vaccine diplomacy, reaching out and mobilising international vaccine supply and injection equipment was very strategic.
Việt Nam has already built a strong immunisation system, vaccinating children and adults in a safe and efficient manner and with the COVID-19 vaccines that system stood up to the test of massive volume, urgent delivery, safe storage and delivery of the vaccines to the waiting arms of the people of Việt Nam.
History will record that Việt Nam was able to implement the campaign and has quickly achieved high vaccination rates.
The coverage of second dose COVID-19 vaccine for target population over 18 years old stands at 95 per cent and for adolescence aged from 12-17 is 94 per cent. This is very high.
I applaud and pay deep respect to all the health workers. This percentage shows that most of the target population in all regions, including disadvantaged areas, have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Việt Nam has not been spared suffering and hardship because of the pandemic, and my condolences are extended to all those who lost a loved one, but there is no question that with such high vaccination coverage. Việt Nam has made very positive achievements in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grade 4-5 of Lê Văn Tám Primary School in the southern city of Trà Vinh get COVID-19 vaccinations on April 22-23, 2022. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Hoà
How important it is for Việt Nam to vaccinate children aged from 5-11 against COVID-19?
As we come to the end of the current wave, there is absolutely no guarantee that there will not be another wave, and no guarantee that it will be less serious.
As COVID-19 remains with us, vaccines are still our best bet to reduce the mortality rate and impact of the disease. And the impact can have long term consequences. The parents I speak to want to ensure their children suffer as little as possible and they want to protect from long COVID, where children suffer heart or lung consequences.
Considering Việt Nam’s high coverage among the highly prioritised population over 12 years, this is a strategic decision that is in line with the internationally recommended roadmap for prioritising the use of COVID-19 vaccines.
After a period of preparation and planning, Việt Nam is now also vaccinating children aged 5-11 years old against COVID-19 in all provinces. I just want to encourage more parents to take advantage of that to ensure that the children are protected.
The Vietnamese Government has set the target that all the adolescences aged 12-17 will receive the second shot in April while the vaccination against COVID-19 for children aged 5-11 will be completed in the second quarter of this year. Meanwhile, the Government considers administering the fourth shot of COVID-19 vaccine for high-risk groups? What are your assessments on the country’s vaccination plan?
Certainly, in all matters COVID-19, we encourage Việt Nam to follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization on COVID-19 vaccination schedules for each category of target population.
We are learning to live with COVID-19 but COVID-19 is not going away yet. And those who are on the front line who are more vulnerable because of other health conditions, they need to ensure that they receive the vaccine when it is offered.
The immunisation systems are equipped with knowledgeable health staff and immunisation officials, and strong logistic and cold chain systems. The implementation of COVID-19 vaccination and the country’s remarkable results are valuable lessons learnt not only for Việt Nam but also for other countries with similar conditions.
How are other countries are rolling out vaccinations for children and people with underlying diseases?
Each country has its own strategy and action plan to deploy the COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with its capabilities and situations. Việt Nam was well prepared, it had assessed the cold chain and it knew where it needed extra fridges or additional capacity.
Not all countries were so prepared. And not all countries have a population who stood together with solidarity and helped protect each other. In other countries, for children, the roll out of vaccines has gone very safely and well.
Many countries have undertaken the vaccinations at the schools. Parents are key, they need to be calm and approach this as they would any vaccination. If the parent is anxious it passes to the children, and that is where we see mass-hysteria events.
For the elderly or people with underlying conditions, the picture is more mixed. In some countries, those groups were not prioritised soon enough, those in facilities were not reached and there were too many deaths as a result.
In other countries, the vaccines went only to those who could afford to pay, and this is wrong. Vaccines are a public good so everyone should have equal access.
Could you brief us about UNICEF's plan to assist Việt Nam in the COVID-19 fight in the upcoming time?
UNICEF had joined hands with the Government of Việt Nam in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning. I recall over Tết (Lunar New Year) festival – the education, health and communication teams getting the materials ready for what we suspected lay ahead.
UNICEF is already the biggest supplier of vaccines so we stepped into the role to support COVAX, to deliver vaccines, to assess cold chain and bring in syringes, safety boxes, fridges and freezers, storage and transport equipment to deploy immunisations.
Many other medical equipment and supplies for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 are also supported through UNICEF. In addition to supporting vaccines and medical supplies, UNICEF also supports organising mobile vaccination teams in disadvantaged areas to bring vaccines closer to the people.
We shared information openly and transparently to make sure it is in sign language, in ethnic languages and we mobilised to change behaviours to ensure an uptake of vaccines, especially in disadvantaged areas.
UNICEF will continue to support Việt Nam to ensure ongoing supply of vaccines and vaccination equipment along with other medical equipment and nutritional supplies.
But we also ensure that we mobilise and respond actively to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 in many areas, ranging from catching up on education, support to nutrition of children, getting children back to receive the ongoing vaccinations that they have not been able to get because of the pandemic lockdown.
Overall, as support continues across all the areas and we look forward to this period when we hope to see less of the pandemic and much more of life building back better and improving the lives of children. — VGP/VNS