Vietnam health officials seek to calm parents, promise no more vaccine frenzy

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Parents gather outside a medical center in Hanoi December 25 hoping to secure a vaccine shot for their babies. Photo: Quang Minh/Tuoi Tre Parents gather outside a medical center in Hanoi December 25 hoping to secure a vaccine shot for their babies. Photo: Quang Minh/Tuoi Tre

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The Ministry of Health has promised adequate supply of a vaccine that is highly sought after by Vietnamese parents, following a chaotic scene in front of a medical center in Hanoi. 
The ministry held a press briefing Saturday in a bid to calm the public, after nearly 600 parents went into frenzy at the center on Friday for a shot of the 5-in-1 vaccine Pentaxim. The unprecedented disorder prompted the center to call the police and asked all the parents, most of whom had been waiting since the previous night, to leave.  
Officials said 200,000 doses of the French vaccine, each costing around $30, are now available in Vietnam. They said 40,000 more will arrive in February.
Parents can register online to have their babies immunized at 161 medical centers nationwide.
Officials said the disorder at the center in Hanoi on Friday only happened because it did not allow advance registration. 
The new batch is the first in months, and many parents want to secure the vaccine for their babies, thinking that a supply shortage may recur. 
Pentaxim, made by French company Sanofi Pasteur, is administered to protect children aged two months upward against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenza type B.
The demand for the vaccine, whose supply is limited in developing countries like Vietnam, has surged recently as its free alternative Quinvaxem has lost much of the public trust following the deaths of more than 20 infants since late 2012.
The latter is a WHO prequalified drug and has been distributed in Vietnam by Berna Biotech Korea Corp since 2010 under a national immunization program.
Quinvaxem uses whole-cell preparations in its whooping cough component while more expensive alternatives like Pentaxim use purified antigens which are considered safer.
No end in sight
The Health Ministry has kept assuring the public that there’s no problem with Quinvaxem. Around 4.5 million shots of the vaccine are given in Vietnam every year.
But Tran Dac Phu, head of the ministry’s Preventive Health Department, admitted that there are parents who do not trust the free vaccine and it is necessary to find other alternatives for them. 
Phu said the supply Pentaxim has been running short as Sanofi Pasteur is updating its technology and production lines to meet World Health Organization requirements and would not be able to meet all the global demand.
He said the ministry will make sure Pentaxim prices remain stable amid the shortage period.
Truong Quoc Cuong, head of the Drug Management Department, said Sanofi Pasteur and the British GlaxoSmithKline are the two providers of infant vaccines using safer whooping cough component, but Vietnam could not secure a deal with the latter.
Japan also produces such vaccines but only for domestic use.
He said the ministry has done everything to increase the local Pentaxim supply.
There are now only two companies licensed to import Pentaxim in northern and southern Vietnam, but Cuong said the ministry will offer support to other importers, if any. 
He said the ministry is also discussing with a company about producing the vaccine in Vietnam.
He said Vietnam is also considering Sanofi’s 6-in-1 vaccine Hexaxim which protects children against polio as well. The vaccine has been tested on 354 children in the north and may be commercialized next June.
The ministry’s officials recommend that if the Pentaxim supply runs out, parents should consider other options, including Quinvaxem, instead of leaving them unprotected.
Officials said that the boycott could lead to disease outbreaks, like the whooping cough outbreak in Hanoi and the nationwide measles outbreak last year.
Cuong said there is not enough Pentaxim even in France, and people are willing to switch to alternatives. 
Vietnamese parents should be flexible too, he said.

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