|Babeth Ngoc Han Lefur, Country Director of Oxfam in Vietnam|
Việt Nam recently established the COVID-19 Vaccine Fund to solicit contributions from various sources in the fight against the pandemic. Babeth Ngoc Han Lefur, Country Director of Oxfam in Vietnam spoke to Thời báo Tài chính Việt Nam (Việt Nam Financial Times) more about the good practice.
One of the fundamental and strategic policies of the Government to prevent COVID-19 and bring life back to normal is to ensure that every person has access to COVID-19 vaccines. What is your opinion on Việt Nam’s current efforts towards vaccine access?
Globally, there just aren’t enough vaccines being produced to meet the need.
The big issue is that the handful of pharmaceutical corporations with approved vaccines are refusing to share the intellectual property and know-how for their vaccines, preventing qualified manufacturers in other countries, including Việt Nam, from making COVID vaccines which would hugely increase the supply. While Việt Nam is currently testing its own vaccine, there is also capacity for the country to make more vaccines and to become a mRNA technology transfer hub – currently all efforts on this front are being blocked by intellectual property rules that must be waived for this pandemic.
Việt Nam’s current efforts towards vaccine access are good but will need further strategising by working on several fronts to overcome the multiple challenges of supply and short conservation of the vaccines, as well as planning well ahead on how the national vaccine programme should be rolled out in ways that every person will have access to the vaccine.
The current fourth wave with very complex developments is compelling the need to accelerate the acquisition of vaccines.
There are several issues, vaccine access to cover the entire population of nearly 100 million people, planning and organising a national vaccination programme that must be fair and inclusive and prioritises workers on the front line and the most vulnerable people first, as well as capacity, timing and logistics of organising such large programme.
A comprehensive strategy towards vaccine access for all people could include,
Purchase, which needs financing and negotiations with various vaccine producers, besides the agreement with the COVAX Facility.
Production, Việt Nam is currently testing its homegrown vaccine. The Government of Việt Nam is also proposing to become mRNA COVID-19 vaccine producer, hosting a mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine technology transfer hub. This would be most strategic policy in view of the supply issue as well as the limited life span of the vaccine and other logistical issues in administering the vaccines to people. This may be a more sustainable policy in finance term, as well as anticipating the evolution of the virus that constantly mutates and needs adaptation of the vaccines. And working towards securing a hub at home will be good for Việt Nam as well as for Asia as a whole.
Research alongside with developing their own production facility, ensure a transfer of knowledge and know-how more rapidly, and build up local capabilities for the long term.
Planning and organising the national vaccine programme, acquisition of the vaccine is one part of access, the roll out of the national vaccine programme needs to be thought through ahead of time with clear criteria on priority groups, preparedness of the population.
To implement the strategies for COVID-19 vaccine access in the fastest and broadest manner, it is critical to secure financial resources. Could you please give your opinion on the establishment of the Vaccine Fund? Do you agree with this, especially in the context that the State budget is limited and it will be difficult to fully vaccinate all people if Việt Nam depends on the State budget only?
Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính has approved a COVID-19 vaccine fund to raise contributions from various sources local and foreign, for the purchase, import, research and production of COVID-19 vaccines. This is a good strategy to secure large financing that's needed as well as to ease reliance on Việt Nam’s own resources and state budget. Particularly that State budget is needed to mitigate the on-going impact of the pandemic, with relief packages to support people and communities most affected, and small businesses currently in hardship.
Oxfam's big concern is the pharmaceutical corporations lack of transparency and high prices could quickly deplete any financing and threaten Việt Nam’s ability to spend on health systems and other urgent needs to prevent more people falling into poverty. It is a responsibility on both the part of pharmaceutical corporations who have already made billions in profit from these vaccines and the government not to push countries into further debt and impoverishment through unacceptable high prices.
What is the solution to effectively mobilise the resources in the society for this Vaccine Fund?
The Vietnamese government needs to publish information in more details. The purpose of the fund, purchase of vaccines, production of vaccines, research and studies.
The total estimated amount for the different purposes of the Fund, the State budget part and public and private contribution needed. Clarify on who can contribute and in which form(s). A steering group must be set up with relevant stakeholders to oversee the good running of resources mobilisation process
Mechanisms for transparent and accountable management of the fund (and sub- funds), which would need more details than currently announced.
Of vital importance is to organise an awareness raising campaign for the whole population to understand the need for such Fund.
What policy recommendations do you have for the management and usage of this fund to ensure effective operation and distribution, so that all people have access to vaccines?
To ensure the fund is managed and used effectively, the Ministry of Finance should soon issue the Regulation on organisation, operation, management and use of the Fund at the request of the Prime Minister.
For the effective management of the fund and regarding people’s access to vaccines, several important considerations to ensure the transparent and accountable management of the Fund, as mentioned above with clear and detailed mechanism on how the fund and sub funds will be managed.
Government must consult with a range of relevant stakeholders to come up with a list of priority groups, this means have clear criteria, those most at risk such as front liner medical staff, workers in crowded factories, the elderly, others; those most impacted because of restrictions and social distancing measures such as migrant and wage workers, women in distress situation, and other vulnerable groups.
A preparedness public awareness raising campaign will be necessary to inform the public about the necessity of the vaccine.
Medical staff preparedness and capacity to implement the national vaccine programme need to be well planned. VNS