Fearing complications from subsidized vaccines, Hanoi parents have exhausted imported vaccine supplies and are taking children abroad to meet vaccine schedules, health officials acknowledged.
Vaccine providers and health officials say the rise of diseases like measles and chickenpox, combined with a boycott of the free Quinvaxem vaccine (which continues to be linked to child deaths) caused the shortage.
Do Tuan Dat, director of the Health Ministry’s vaccine company VABIOTECH, said demand has surged by at least two to three-fold this year.
Hundreds of chickenpox cases have been reported nationwide, while measles claimed more than a hundred lives out of the thousands of infected cases. Most of the victims were small children.
Measles infections have fallen, but officials say they don't know when they'll stop.
Dat said the chickenpox vaccine was rarely sought in previous years, but has been in high demand since late 2013.
“We imported 25,000 doses in late April and they're already gone.”
He said the agency has already secured approval to import nearly 80,000 more doses, but are waiting for the producer to make them.
“We can only import another 10,000 doses by the end of June.”
The agency was established to produce and import vaccines and deliver them to health centers upon demand.
But the system isn't quite working out.
Dinh Anh Quy took his daughter to a vaccination center in Hanoi earlier this month for the third and final shot of a 5-in-1 vaccine, but he was told that the vaccine would not be available until at least the end of July.
“I don’t know if that will hinder its effects,” Quy said.
Each nearly US$30 injection protects children from five diseases – diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, and meningitis.
Quy said he chose the vaccine after the free Quinvaxem version was linked to infant deaths.
He is one of many Vietnamese parents who opted to purchase vaccines from Belgium, France and the US after nine recipients of Quinvaxem died between November 2012 and March 2013.
The Health Ministry imposed a temporary ban on the vaccine last May to investigate its connection to the deaths.
After the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed it was safe and pushed Vietnam to lift the ban. The Dutch-made vaccine was reintroduced last October when at least four similar infant deaths were reported.
Nguyen Nhat Cam, director of the Hanoi Preventive Health Center said there’s no conspiracy or conflict in the vaccine supply.
“The vaccine company wants to sell and we want to have vaccines to provide to people… The problem is many diseases broke out this year, and the halt of Quinvaxem caused people to switch to chargeable vaccines that led to the shortage.”
Cam said he heard that there will be alternative 5-in-1 vaccines starting at the end of July, but he has no idea what will happen to 6-in-1 (plus hepatitis B) and chickenpox vaccines.
“I heard many parents have flown to Singapore and Thailand to give their children a shot,” Cam said.
Health officials said overseas vaccinations are costly as the prices are higher, not to mention travel expenses.
So if they cannot wait for the return of the multiple-disease vaccines, they can bring their children in to be vaccinated against each disease, which only takes time.
The single measles vaccine is free and is administered twice to children in Vietnam at their ninth and 18th months. The chargeable measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is given starting at one year old.
Truong Quoc Cuong, head of the ministry's Drug Administration Department said Vietnam's supply of free vaccines reamains stable.
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