Tran Dac Phu, Director of the Preventive Medicine Department under the Ministry of Health, speaks to VietnamPlus about the scarcity of some vaccines under the national immunisation programme.

Q: Will you please explain the supply mechanism for privately paid vaccines in our country at present?

The supply operates according to market demand between customers and suppliers. Meanwhile, under our national expanded immunisation programme, the Government has to ensure a sufficient supply of vaccines to all children under five years free of charge. Under Vietnamese Law, all children under five have to be immunised.

At present, many of these vaccines, particularly the six-in-one (a combination of six different vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, polio and Haemophilus influenza type B) are in short supply.

However, under the expanded Government programme, we have Quinvaxem vaccine – a five in one vaccine having the same quality as the five-in-one Pentaxim vaccine or six-in-one Infranrix hexa vaccine to protect against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza Type B.

I have to concede some of the vaccines available on the privately paid list are not provided under the National Expanded Immunisation Programme. They include those that protect against chicken pox, mumps and rabies.

Q: In your opinion, what are the main causes for the scarcity in the supply of vaccines?

There are various factors leading to the shortage of the five-in-one and six-in-one vaccines. However, in my opinion, the two main ones are that makers modified their production chains, leading to a slowdown in production.

Based on the information we have the supplies of vaccines for rabies and chicken pox in Vietnam in 2015 will be same as those in 2014. But for the six-in-one vaccine (Infranrix hexa vaccine), a total of only 30,000 doses will be available – about one tenth of the doses provided in 2104.

The same situation is expected with the five-in-one vaccine (Pentaxim vaccine). All in all, in 2015, foreign suppliers will be able to provide Vietnam with 300,000 doses of the Infranrix hexa and the Pentexim vaccines. Meanwhile, each child needs inoculations at the age of two, three and four months. This means, these 300,000 doses will only be able to protect 100,000 children.

Q: How many Vietnamese children must receive vaccinations against common diseases in a year?

Vietnam now has 1.6 million newborn babies a year while the coverage of the national expanded immunisation programme is more than 95 percent of children. This means that between 4.5-4.8 million children must be vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. And each of them must have three shots for each disease.

So, under the national expanded immunisation programme, 1.6 million children will be inoculated while in the privately paid services, just about 100,000 children will be vaccinated.

Basically speaking, all children under five years old in Vietnam are covered by the national immunisation programme, including the inoculation of the five in one Quinvaxem vaccine. However, the vaccine services are only available in major cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. This is a key factor leading to the long queues to buy vaccines by parents.

Q: Some parents think the quality of vaccine services is better than those in the national immunisation programme. How do you respond to that?

I just want to emphasise there is no difference in quality between vaccines provided in the national vaccination programme and those in the paid services.

All vaccines used in the national vaccination programme are special vaccines which have been checked and approved by the World Health Organisation and Vietnamese functional agencies.

More recently, some children were reported to have whooping cough as they didn't have their vaccination shots against the cough. This is an eloquent proof showing that the quality of vaccines provided in the national programme is as good as those of privately paid vaccines.

Q: Does the Ministry of Health have any plan to solve the problem of "severe shortage" of paid vaccines this year?

At the start of the year, the Ministry of Health requested vaccine manufacturers to make public the volume of vaccines they could supply to Vietnam in 2015. Following the request, they informed us that they could only supply vaccines of the six-in-one and five-in-one for 100,000 of 1.6 million Vietnamese children.

In addition, the Ministry of Health has also asked the paid services units to replace the shortage of paid vaccines with similar vaccines available in the National Immunisation Programme to give to the children without any surcharge. The ministry's decision is to protect the under-five-year-old children's rights.-VNA