Vietnam officials defend infant vaccine despite public concerns, say options limited

Thanh Nien News

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Vietnam provides around 5.5 million Quinvaxem shots every year and up to 200,000 of the alternatives, which are more expensive and considered safer. Photo credit: VietNamNet Vietnam provides around 5.5 million Quinvaxem shots every year and up to 200,000 of the alternatives, which are more expensive and considered safer. Photo credit: VietNamNet

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Vietnamese health officials have once again assured the safety of the free five-in-one vaccine Quinvaxem, saying it will continue to be used widely for at least five more years as part of a sponsorship deal. 
Dang Duc Anh, director of the National Hygiene and Epidemiology Institute, said at a conference on Wednesday that the global vaccine alliance GAVI, which is a public private partnership, is set to pay for around 4.8 million of Quinvaxem shots in Vietnam until the end of 2020.
Vietnam will take care of its own supply after that and it will consider between Quinvaxem and the alternatives, Anh said, as cited by news website VietNamNet.
Quinvaxem is a WHO prequalified drug and has been distributed in Vietnam by Berna Biotech Korea Corp since 2010 under the GAVI-sponsored national immunization program. It aims to protect children aged two months upward against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenza type B.
But the vaccine has lost much of the public trust following the deaths of at least 20 infants since late 2012.
There has been even a war on Facebook between people denouncing it and those supporting it.
Supplies of alternatives such as the French-made Pentaxim, which costs around US$30 a shot, are limited and almost impossible to secure.
Quinvaxem uses whole-cell preparations in its whooping cough component while costly alternatives use purified antigens, which are considered safer.
Vietnam provides around 5.5 million Quinvaxem shots every year and up to 200,000 of the alternatives, according to Anh.
Tran Duc Phu, director of the Preventive Health Department at the health ministry, also said at the conference that 92 percent of babies in the target group are still given Quinvaxem. The more expensive alternatives are mostly available in large cities.
Official reports showed that at least ten babies died after receiving Quinvaxem in 2015.
“The complication rate from the vaccine in Vietnam is still slower than recommended by the World Health Organization and the producer,” Phu said, arguing that the rate would be the same for Pentaxim if the latter is used widely.
No deaths have been linked to Pentaxim in Vietnam. 
Phu said that if parents are too worried about complications and try to avoid Quinvaxem, they may put their children in bigger health risks.

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