Vietnam overlooks Chinese vaccines for its COVID-19 inoculation programme

Hanoi: Vietnam, which recently began its inoculation drive, has overlooked China-made vaccines, opting for the vaccine developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca instead.

According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), the programme will be initially conducted in 18 hospitals treating COVID-19 patients and in areas with higher infection numbers, according to Vietnam health minister Nguyen Thanh Long.

China’s Sinopharm has said the vaccine made by its Wuhan subsidiary has a 72.5 per cent efficacy, while the Beijing-based Sinovac’s vaccine was found to be 50.6 per cent effective, one of the lowest efficacy rates as compared to any existing coronavirus vaccine.

“Besides what’s available in the public health care system, the next option for me would be the vaccine from Russia, then the US, then the one from China if there is no other choice,” said Hanoi resident Hoang Cam Hang.

Hang’s stance reflects Vietnam’s move to steer clear of Chinese vaccines, despite Beijing’s pledge to make vaccines a global public good and offer priority access to developing countries, reported SCMP.

Vietnam, which has reported one of the lowest total COVID-19 infections, is the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc that has yet to publicly vouch for the use of China-made vaccines.

China’s vaccine diplomacy had failed with Vietnam mainly because of anti-China sentiments among the public, said Nguyen Phuong Linh, associate director with global consultancy firm Control Risks.

“From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus has been widely reported in Vietnam as originally coming from China. Since then, the anti-China sentiments, which were already strong, have shown no sign of weakening,” said Linh.

Furthermore, Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst, said China did not come to Vietnam with offers of personal protective equipment (PPE) as it had to other Southeast Asian neighbours, which depicted a level of politicisation in Beijing’s COVID-19 diplomacy.

According to SCMP, Vietnam and China have always had an uneasy diplomatic relationship, with hostile sentiments being fuelled by an ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea between China, Vietnam and three other ASEAN countries, along with Beijing’s activities on the Mekong River that have affected ASEAN countries.

Bilateral tensions between both sides has resurfaced as China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited nine ASEAN states over few months except Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Vietnam aims to inoculate 80 per cent of its population or about 72 million people to achieve herd immunity.