What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines

Answers to the most common questions about COVID-19 vaccine development and introduction in Viet Nam

UNICEF Viet Nam
What you need to know about a COVID-19 vaccine
UNICEF/UN0200242/Singh
03 March 2021

Vaccines for COVID-19 are critical tools for helping bring the pandemic under control when combined with effective testing and existing prevention measures. Several vaccines, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna vaccines, are approved for use by a number of stringent national regulatory bodies, while several potential vaccines are still under review for approval. The race to vaccinate the population against COVID-19 has entered into a new phase.

The threat to children posed by COVID-19 is enormous, extending far beyond the immediate physical effects of the disease. As lockdown restrictions continue or are re-imposed, children’s access to school and essential health services continue to be affected. The resulting school closures, reductions in routine healthcare coverage and a looming recession are threatening the health and the future of a generation of children.

Below are answers to some of the most common questions parents might have about COVID-19 vaccines.

When will a COVID-19 vaccine be available in Viet Nam?

Developing a safe and effective vaccine takes time, but thanks to the unprecedented investment in research and development and global cooperation, scientists have been able to develop vaccines against COVID-19 in record time, while still maintaining robust, evidence-based and rigorous regulatory standards.

Vaccines have already started to be distributed and used in many countries across the world since December 2020. Viet Nam will receive at least 4.1 million doses of the COVID-19 Vaccine Oxford-AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility. A total 1.2 million doses are scheduled to arrive in the first quarter of 2021 and over 2.9 million doses in the second quarter.

The Government of Viet Nam could make available in the near future other safe and effective vaccines that are already approved in other countries. More potential vaccines for COVID-19 are being studied in Viet Nam to determine if they are safe and effective which could accelerate the vaccination of the majority of the population in the future.

Who will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Viet Nam?

The massive global demand means that not everyone will be able to get the vaccine at the same time. It will take months — or even years — to produce enough vaccine doses for everyone. Viet Nam has identified 11 priority groups, including health care workers, customs officers, diplomatic personnel, soldiers, police officers and teachers, who will be eligible to receive the first vaccines.

It is important that teachers, child protection workers and other workers who provide essential services for children be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, after frontline health care workers and high-risk populations. That will be an enormous achievement, but for the first years there won’t be enough doses for more widespread use. That means it is important to continue taking other precautions to protect you, your family and your community, including practicing physical distancing, regular handwashing and wearing masks.

Should my child get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Under the COVAX plan, the initial doses of vaccines sent to countries are intended for health workers, social care workers and people at high risk of severe illness from the virus, such as the elderly or those with underlying conditions, and are unlikely to be given to children. These populations have been prioritized to help reduce morbidity from COVID-19 and to help protect health systems that serve everyone. The guidance and availability might be updated as we learn more, so it’s a good idea to check back on trusted sources like the WHO, as well as your local health ministry.

It is important, however, to make sure that your child is continuing to receive routine childhood vaccinations. Read about how to do so safely.

How are COVID-19 vaccines being developed?

Vaccines work by mimicking an infectious agent – viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause a disease. This ‘teaches’ our immune system to rapidly and effectively respond against it.

Traditionally, vaccines introduce a weakened form of an infectious agent that allows our immune system to build a memory of it. This way, our immune system can quickly recognize and fight it before it makes us ill. That’s how some current COVID-19 vaccine candidates are being designed, including the COVID-19 Vaccine Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Other vaccines called RNA and DNA vaccines use new approaches. Instead of introducing the antigen (a substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies), RNA and DNA vaccines give our body the genetic code it needs to allow our immune system to produce the antigen itself. 

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

The COVID-19 Vaccine Oxford-AstraZeneca has received the WHO’s Emergency Use Authorization and the Government of Viet Nam has approved its use in the country. The vaccine was developed and tested by the University of Oxford in partnership with the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca .

Vaccines that are approved for use by the WHO have gone through rigorous tests and clinical trials to show that they are safe and effective in controlling diseases. Each country has regulatory bodies that oversee vaccine safety and efficacy before they are used widely. Globally, the WHO coordinates a number of independent technical bodies that review the safety of vaccines prior to and even after they have been introduced. Even though COVID-19 vaccines are being developed as rapidly as possible, they can only receive the required regulatory approvals if they meet stringent safety and efficacy standards.

UNICEF makes the safety of children and their families its highest priority – that includes the delivery of a vaccine that is safe.

What is UNICEF’s role to make COVID-19 vaccines available?

It’s important to remember that the journey from developing a vaccine to licensing it, producing it at scale and using it widely is a long one. Once a vaccine receives the required approval, it is then critical that it is made accessible, in a timely and equitable manner, to reach those that need it most. That’s where UNICEF and its partners come in.

UNICEF has leveraged its unique experience as the largest single vaccine buyer in the world by collaborating with the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) in what could possibly be the world's largest and fastest procurement and supply of vaccines.

What is COVAX?

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the ACT-Accelerator, aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

The COVAX Facility’s role is to continually watch the development of COVID-19 vaccines to identify the most suitable vaccine candidates. The facility works with manufacturers to incentivize them to expand their production capacity in advance of vaccines receiving regulatory approval.

This is being done because normally, manufacturers are reluctant to risk making the significant investments needed to scale-up vaccine manufacturing facilities until they have received approval for a vaccine. But in the context of the current pandemic, this would lead to delays and vaccine shortages once vaccines are licensed.