Nguyen, Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility, granted Tuoi Tre News an interview late last month where she discussed challenges she and her colleagues have met while trying to deliver COVAX vaccines globally.

She aired her opinions on countries’ drives to administer booster shots amid a dearth of vaccines.

Vietnam will receive far more jabs in the coming time and the country should give them “with as little wastage as possible,” she underlined. 

As of September 19, Vietnam had received 12,578,110 doses of COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX Facility, according to UNICEF, a delivery partner. The Southeast Asian country has so far obtained about 60 million doses from different sources. 

The COVAX executive added that diagnostics, therapeutics, and social distancing measures are key to tackling the pandemic besides vaccines.

She also shared her dear memories of the visit to her father’s country of origin, Vietnam.

As the Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility, we understand you absolutely have to oversee so many things relating to COVID-19 vaccines. But what are the biggest responsibilities in your opinion?

Managing the facility is a big responsibility and every day I am humbled that I get to work with an incredible team who are all committed to our goal of global, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Yes, there are challenges. We have to work at a quick pace while maintaining strong communication with countries and partners to ensure their needs are met. And there have been many late nights trying to iron out how we can make our vision a reality but ultimately, I remain committed and inspired by the work we do.

COVAX has delivered hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to more than 140 countries around the world, including Vietnam, but those are still extremely below COVAX’s goal of securing at least two billion doses by the end of this year. Can you tell more what difficulties COVAX has faced to meet the goal? What is the biggest obstacle?

As of today, we have delivered over 300 million vaccine doses to 142 countries around the world. We have proved that our model works, at scale, however, it is clear that many more doses are needed if the world is to end the acute phase of this pandemic. There are a number of reasons why not enough doses have been made available to lower-income countries: for one thing, by the time COVAX was able to begin raising funds in 2020 most of 2021’s supply had already been reserved by wealthy governments. We have also had to deal with other challenges, for example, an export ban on vaccines from India, which dramatically affected our early supply. Global production has now increased significantly, as has the number of available safe and effective vaccines, so it is critical that COVAX now get the doses it needs to deliver on its goal.

Many countries decided to provide booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine recently despite the shortage of doses, what is your opinion about this?

While it is important that we continue to conduct research on boosters as they could offer enhanced protection, what we must realize is that if some high-income countries start offering boosters, it will affect global supply and there will be fewer doses available for the rest of the world. The world still needs to focus on making sure people receive their first doses, rather than focusing on boosters.

Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility, said her father was born in Vietnam. Photo: Gavi / Tony Noel

Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility, said her father was born in Vietnam. Photo: Gavi / Tony Noel

Apart from getting some help from the COVAX Facility, what other measures Vietnam can take to be able to have enough COVID-19 vaccines for the nation’s mass vaccination program?

Right now, we need the support of all governments to ensure we can get access to the doses we have procured from manufacturers. Countries participating in the COVAX Facility can all help us by advocating for COVAX to be prioritized in supply queues.

Countries can also help by doing everything they can to ensure successful delivery. As a participant in the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, or AMC, Vietnam like other countries will soon be receiving a lot more doses and it is essential that these all get administered with as little wastage as possible. COVAX can help here, as can other bodies such as multilateral development banks like the World Bank that have made money available for delivery funding.

Besides the vaccine, could you give Vietnam any piece of advice on a strategy of preparing for medicines that could treat COVID-19?

Vaccines are a powerful tool, but we also must not overlook the important role that diagnostics and therapeutics can play in bringing the pandemic under control. COVAX is part of the ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) Accelerator, which seeks to ensure optimal strategies across these three interlinked solutions. In addition to this, we know that vaccines save lives and that measures such as social distancing, avoiding crowded areas, wearing masks, and regularly and thoroughly cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water are absolutely essential in helping limit the spread of this highly transmissible virus. If all three measures are adopted, we will be well-armed to tackle the pandemic.

As an executive of the COVAX Facility, what are specific things that you can do in your capability and authority to help Vietnam in supporting COVID-19 vaccines?

COVAX was set up to support all Gavi COVAX AMC participants, including Vietnam, and ensure doses reach those that need them the most. While we have faced challenges with supply, we believe we will have enough vaccines available to us by the end of the year to protect at least 20 percent of the population in 91 AMC countries, and enough by the end of March to protect nearly 40 percent.

What is your point of view on Vietnam’s strategy against the ongoing fourth wave of COVID-19 pandemic?

It is great to see that Vietnam is prioritizing vaccination and achieving high levels of coverage because as we all know when it comes to defending ourselves against the virus, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This also means that all countries, including those that are more advanced in their vaccination strategies, need to stay vigilant and be prepared to take whatever public health measure is necessary in order to stem the spread of the virus. The only way that we will be able to defeat this virus in the long term and allow our societies and economies to truly open up again is by working together.

Thank you so much!

Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility - Photo: Gavi / Tony Noel
Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility. Photo: Gavi / Tony Noel

Who is Aurélia Nguyen?

According to her profile on Gavi, a global Vaccine Alliance, Aurélia Nguyen was appointed Managing Director of the Office of the COVAX Facility in October 2020. She is in charge of leading the coordination of procurement and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for 190 participating economies through COVAX.

Until her appointment, Nguyen served as Gavi’s Managing Director for Vaccines & Sustainability, leading the end-to-end work of designing Gavi’s vaccine programs.

She was also named by TIME magazine on the 2021 TIME100 Next list honoring “the 100 individuals who are shaping the future of their fields and defining the next generation of leadership.”

My father is Vietnamese

My father was born in Vietnam and has many fond memories of his childhood that he has transmitted to me when I was growing up. I was in my 20s when I had an opportunity to visit Vietnam for the first time and retrace the steps of his childhood, meet extended family members, and visit the tombs of my ancestors. It was a very emotional visit that connected me strongly to my country of origin. I saw all the things that had been described to me by my father and grandparents come alive: the beauty of its landscape, the delicious food, the incredible generosity, and also the great sense of humor of its people.

Aurélia Nguyen talks about her special connection with Vietnam, which she calls her original country

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