Shot in the arm: Vietnam builds up vaccine industry to end shortage

Thanh Nien News

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A child gets vaccinated at Hanoi Preventive Health Center. Photo: Ngoc Thang A child gets vaccinated at Hanoi Preventive Health Center. Photo: Ngoc Thang

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A plan is underway to have combination vaccines produced in Vietnam, where several infant deaths have driven many parents towards unsubsidized vaccines, leading to a critical supply shortage at non-public clinics across the country.
The plan, with a funding of tens of billions of dongs, focuses on vaccines that are in high demand. They include the five-in-one against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and Haemophilus influenza type B (HiB), and the six-in-one against the same five plus hepatitis B, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Monday.
The report quoted Do Tuan Dat, director of the health ministry’s vaccines and bio-products company, as saying that currently four producers are working on the project with each in charge of making one or a few components of the vaccines.
Dat’s company has studied HiB vaccine since 2005 and is preparing for tests on humans.
The producers can complete their tasks soon, but “the challenge” is whether the components will be able to work well with one another, Dat said, adding that they expect to start testing the combination products in 2018.
Another option, he said, is to collaborate with international producers who own copyrights for pentavalent and hexavalent vaccines.
The plan’s initial objective is to serve the domestic demand, and later to export the vaccines, according to the director.
Asked if the vaccines, when finished, will be able to meet parents’ expectations, in terms of safety and effectiveness, Dat said Vietnam can take pride in being one of a few countries in the world that have developed their vaccine industry.
The country has so far produced 11 out of 12 vaccines which are currently provided for free under an immunization program subsidized by the state, he said.
Among them is measles vaccine which has been praised for having the world’s top quality by the World Health Organization, he added.
However, the country is also facing difficulties in human resources, as many in production teams have not gone through professional training but mainly learnt from hands-on experiences, according to the director.
Vietnam used to surpass China and India in terms of technology for vaccine production, but it has fallen behind, he added.
Vaccine crisis
Tran Dac Phu, chief of the health ministry’s preventive health department, said in the newspaper that suppliers so far have pledged to provide Vietnam with 530,000 doses of pentavalent and hexavalent vaccines this year, which is just enough for over 170,000 babies.
Compared to the national demand, the supply is simply too low, Phu said.
Nguyen Tat Dat, deputy chief of the ministry’s drug administration, also said the shortage will possibly last until the middle of this year.
But he noted that the crisis has taken place at non-public clinics only while public ones which provide subsidized vaccines always have enough in stock.
Dat warned that parents who insist on having their children vaccinated at unsubsidized clinics and decide to wait will put the kids at risks of being exposed to diseases like the whooping cough, which reportedly sickened at least nine children in the northern region in January.
In May 2013, the health ministry temporarily banned the pentavalent vaccine Quinvaxem from its subsidy program amid allegations about its connection with nine infant deaths between November 2012 and March 2013.
However, WHO later confirmed it was safe and pushed a lift of the ban.
Not long after the ban was removed, at least another five babies died after being given the controversial vaccine.

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