Nitin Kapoor, the chairman of AstraZeneca Vietnam, talks about the country’s successful vaccination program, tourism resumption, and why a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose is needed.
|Nitin Kapoor, the chairman of AstraZeneca Vietnam: The Government is right to prioritize vaccination before full reopening.|
Historic vaccination campaign
When the coronavirus spread around the world in 2020, rich nations scrambled to create and procure vaccines that could save their citizens. Millions of doses of vaccines — even before they were proven completely effective — were already reserved.
For a developing country like Vietnam, it took a little while to negotiate, buy or get donations. On February 24, 2021, the first doses of AstraZenaca vaccine landed at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. The over 117,000 doses of vaccines were used to start a historic vaccination campaign on March 8. It was considerably too few, not even enough to give frontline health workers the protection they so needed. But it was a significant move, especially because Vietnam was among the first countries in Southeast Asia to have access to the vaccine amidst a shortage of supply.
“We did our best to deliver 30 million doses ahead of schedule in only 10 months, helping to protect millions of Vietnamese,” said Nitin Kapoor, the general director and chairman of AstraZeneca in Vietnam.
Vietnam also got other vaccine donations from the COVAX facility and foreign governments such as the United States, Japan, and China. Overseas Vietnamese also raised funds to secure vaccines for their homeland.
Now a year after the first-ever COVID-19 vaccine was inoculated, Vietnam is among the world’s most highly vaccinated countries. The Ministry of Health said on March 25 that over 77.8 million out of 98 million people have already been fully vaccinated, that’s already more than 79% of the whole population.
Vietnam now targets to finish administering the third dose for adults and the second dose for children aged 12 to 17 within the first quarter of the year. Before September, kids aged 5 to 11 may be getting their first doses.
And as the country makes big leaps towards a new normal — from the full border reopening on March 15, resumption of pre-pandemic visa policies to the lifting of quarantine and vaccination rules for visitors — the government is now talking about administering a fourth dose to adults. Specific plans aren’t in place yet, but such strategy is necessary given the uncertainty of the pandemic, explained Mr. Kapoor.
Vietnam is among the countries with the highest vaccination rates
The Vietnamese government is absolutely right to prioritize vaccination as one of the most effective and fastest routes to surmount the pandemic. Their public health messaging is highly regarded across the world for its consistency, clarity, and accuracy, which boosted vaccine confidence in the country. The government’s vaccine diplomacy has also been top-notched, securing dozens of millions of doses through leveraging Vietnam’s reputable position and robust multilateral relationships. But all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless efforts of healthcare professionals across all levels but especially in the grassroots, community network, who “went to every house and knocked on every door,” even though their public holidays. Without them, these shots wouldn’t have gotten into people’s arms so quickly. I sincerely thank them for all they’ve done to get us to where we are today.
Has Vietnam already achieved herd immunity?
Scientists have had different views on whether herd immunity is achievable since the emergence of the Delta variant last year. Now with Omicron, which is even more transmissible, you’re not guaranteed to never have it again after being infected once. However, the goal of the Vietnamese government was to achieve herd immunity when 70% of the population are vaccinated.
Vietnam definitely reached that target and even beyond, as nearly 50% of us have been boosted. COVID cases have grown exponentially since Tet, but it is now able to live a ‘new normal’ life now as severe cases and deaths are under control thanks to high vaccination rates, no longer overstretching the health system.
Did the Vietnam government make the right decision to fully open the borders?
Nitin Kapoor said he trust the Vietnamese government’s decision to reopen our borders to visitors at this time, though of course, with certain safety measures still applied such as pre-approval testing, health declaration, and monitoring while the traveler is in the country. Tourism is a major part of our economy.
Vietnam has done a great job containing the virus compared to many other countries, it’s about time we accelerate the economic recovery. However, it’s important that we remain vigilant and closely examine the evolving situation to be able to make timely policy changes where necessary.
The successful vaccination campaign and the removal of restrictions on international flights has created a golden opportunity for Vietnam to reopen the tourism sector.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has proposed that international arrivals to Vietnam should be able to avoid any quarantine requirements, providing they are fully vaccinated,