Slow Vaccine Rollout Creates Risks for Pandemic Standout Vietnam

Vietnam, whose containment of the coronavirus allowed the economy to continue growing all last year, is now facing a real challenge from a lack of vaccines as coronavirus outbreaks hit key manufacturing hubs.

A slow vaccine rollout will delay the government’s ability to open up the economy, according to a post on the government’s website, which did not cite any specific official. The country may lose its economic advantage if it can’t reach herd immunity with 70% of the population vaccinated, the post said.

Virus cases are surging across the country, including in northern provinces where global electronics manufacturers have factories. The government has ordered restaurants and sidewalk eateries to halt dine-in service, limited religious ceremonies and public gatherings in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and implemented mass virus testing for factory workers and at-risk districts.

Electronics manufacturers have shuttered many factories as local authorities temporarily close some industrial parks. Bac Giang province, home of Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. suppliers, has recorded half of the more than 4,300 new local virus cases tallied nationwide since late April.

That’s a risk for an economy that relies heavily on exports. The main goal is to allow companies that can access vaccines to import them, as the government faces a challenge to cover the cost of inoculating the population, the post said.

Vietnam started negotiating with Covid-19 vaccine makers in May 2020, but “the country has shown signs of slowness in the ‘race’ to acquire vaccines due to problems tied to mechanisms, policies, cumbersome procedures and even the fear of responsibility,” the government post said.

Slow Rollout

As of Monday afternoon Vietnam had given at least one shot to 1,102,099 people out of a population of 98 million, with 30,602 fully inoculated.

After managing to expand 2.91% last year, Vietnam’s economy disappointed in the first quarter, growing 4.48% versus the 5.7% expected in a Bloomberg survey of economists. That came as Covid outbreaks create obstacles for the economy, the head of the country’s General Statistics Office said.

Foreign companies are crucial to the country’s export sector, accounting for nearly three-quarters of total shipments in the first four months of 2021. Throughout the pandemic, Vietnamese officials have worked to help foreign companies continue operating even as parts of the country have endured lockdown-like conditions.

Authorities in Bac Giang are scrambling to help factories reopen after four industrial parks were closed. In nearby Bac Ninh province, where Samsung has factories, authorities ordered plants to set up on-site sleeping arrangements for workers and put in place other procedures to enable operations to continue.

In addition to developing homegrown vaccines, Vietnam plans to acquire vaccine-production technologies through joint ventures and partnerships with global vaccine manufacturers, the government said in the post. The nation is striving to reach herd immunity by the end of the year, according to a post Monday citing Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long.

“Vietnam can’t stay locked up forever,” said Fred Burke, a partner at the Baker McKenzie law firm in Ho Chi Minh City. The country “needs an aggressive rollout of the vaccine. It’s a race against time.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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