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Alternatives to free vaccine to meet just 4% of 2016 demand

Update: December, 29/2015 - 10:16
A baby gets free vaccine under the National Extended Programme on Immunisation in Bac Giang Province. Vaccines outside the free immunisation programme so far will only be able to meet four per cent of the demand in the upcoming year. — VNS Photo Thanh Hai

HA NOI (VNS) — Vaccines outside the free immunisation programme so far will only be able to meet four per cent of the demand in the upcoming year, according to the Ministry of Health.

The annual estimated demand for the vaccines, including the five-in-one Pentaxim and the six-in-one Hexaxim, reached up to one million dosage and might even climb higher next year following the Quinvaxem vaccine crisis. Viet Nam only managed to confirm 40,000 private vaccine doses in the beginning of 2016, reported the Drug Administration of Viet Nam (DAV).

"The vaccine manufacturers said that they have tried as best as they could to transfer the vaccines from other markets to Viet Nam's," said DAV Director Truong Quoc Cuong.

"So far we haven't had any other confirmation from them for 2016," Cuong said.

DAV Deputy Director Do Van Dong said in an online interview with yesterday that DAV has been negotiating with the manufacturers as well as asking vaccine importers to look for alternative sources.

Quinvaxem crisis

The information on the serious vaccine shortage added fuel to the desperation of many parents across the country, especially in big cities like Ha Noi and HCM City, as they were counting the days until the arrival of Pentaxim and Hexaxim.

Their alternative, the free Quinvaxem in the national expanded programme on immunisation, has been avoided at all costs by many following a series of deaths of infants who took the vaccine.

Quinvaxem is a five-in-one vaccine which will prevent five diseases including diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, pneumonia and meningitis. The vaccine has been used in Viet Nam since June 2010 and was suspended once in 2013 for investigation when 27 babies died after having the vaccine.

An independent assessment report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) later confirmed that those fatal cases were not related to the vaccine. Viet Nam continued to use Quinvaxem until another eight deaths and a shortage of the alternative vaccine triggered a vaccine crisis this year.

On Thursday, a vaccination centre in Ha Noi had to shut down due to security issues when hundreds of parents flooded the centre looking for the vaccine after spending all-night waiting outside in 14 degrees Celcius weather.

A 25-year-old mother in Ha Noi, Le Thi Hong Hanh, said that her daughter is two months old and should have had the vaccine by now.

"But I'm still waiting for the private vaccines," Hanh said. "In the worst case, my husband and I will take my baby to Singapore for vaccination there."

The trend of having the vaccination in Singapore has boomed in the last few months with prices ranging from VND10-15 million (US$444-666) when a lot of Vietnamese middle-class families could not wait any longer for the vaccines to arrive.

Outbreak looms

Hanh was not the only one to skip the Quinvaxem despite repeated affirmation on its safety by the Health Ministry and its calls on the residents to have their babies take the vaccine.

The number of cases that suffered serious vaccine side-effects in Viet Nam was about 4.6 out of one million doses while the rates allowed by the WHO range from one to 20 cases on one million doses, said the Expanded Programme on Immunisation Secretary Ngo Khanh Hoang yesterday.

"If the babies don't get full vaccination, their chances of having diseases are very high," Hoang said.

The Preventive Medicine Department Director Tran Dac Phu warned about the risk of a weak communal immunisation leading to a possible outbreak in the future when the residents turned their backs on Quinvaxem.

Viet Nam's immunisation rate in recent years always reached more than 90 per cent, which also made unvaccinated people less likely to be exposed to the diseases and get infected.

"But if the rate drops to only 60 per cent, an outbreak will happen," he said.

That risk was real, as Hanh said one of her friends still hasn't vaccinated her two-year-old child until now due to fear of Quinvaxem.

"I hope that all of us will share the responsibility in this and not let Viet Nam becoming a community with weak immunisation," Phu said. — VNS

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