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Radio Free Asia

Vietnam Will Buy 10 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses From Cuba

2021-09-20 -- Vietnam will purchase 10 million doses of a Cuban coronavirus vaccine amid a scarcity of doses in the Southeast Asian country as it weathers its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic, state media reported.

Vietnam's President Nguyen Xuan Phuc over the weekend traveled to Cuba on an official visit, where he met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported that Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh approved the proposal to buy the 10 million doses of the Abdala vaccine.

Cuba's Abdala vaccine joins seven others approved for use in Vietnam. They are the British-Swedish AstraZeneca, the Russian Sputnik V, the Chinese-made Vero Cell and Hayat-Vax, and the U.S.-made Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

As of Monday, Vietnam has received 50 million vaccine doses through imports, the World Health Organization's COVAX program, and direct donations by other countries. Of these, 35 million doses have been administered to Vietnam's population of 98 million.

Homegrown holdup

The rollout of Vietnam's homegrown Nanocovax coronavirus vaccine has been held up due to a lack of data regarding its efficacy, health authorities reported.

The National Ethics Committee in Biomedical Research under the Ministry of Health said the conclusion was made Saturday at a meeting to discuss mid-term results of the vaccine's third-phase clinical trial, which ended Sept. 2.

The Committee said the vaccine been deemed safe for use, but the research group must keep working to provide the sufficient data on its efficacy.

Nanocovax, produced by Nanogen, is one of four Vietnamese domestically developed COVID-19 vaccines and the first to have reached phase 3 clinical trials. Around 13,000 people have participated in phase 3.

Given the high demand for vaccines and their relative scarcity, many expected that the Nanocovax vaccine would soon be approved by the government for local use.

Videos of Buddhist Monk praying for Nanocovax' early approval went viral on social media last week.

Social media users were critical of the Venerable Master Thich Nhat Tu, Abbot of Giac Ngo Pagoda, who performed the early approval prayer. They said vaccine research and development should be based on science, rather than faith.

Vietnam had been among the most effective countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths through late July 2020—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.

After successfully weathering three separate waves of the virus with confirmed cases numbering in the low thousands, a fourth wave arrived in April 2021. As of Monday, Vietnam has confirmed 687,063 cases of COVID-19 and 17,090 deaths according to data from Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.

During the fourth wave, the country locked down its largest cities and forbade residents from leaving their houses except to procure food, a move that has led to widespread unemployment and loss of income.

But even as the harsh measures dragged on, reported cases continued to climb.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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