From completely depending on imported vaccines, now Vietnam has four vaccine factories with modern machines and technology reaching international standards, equivalent to those of other countries in the region and the world.
Early difficult days
At the seminar entitled the “25th anniversary of the expanded immunization day in Vietnam” we learned about memorable and prideful stories of the first days when the Vietnamese physicians built the expanded immunization sector 25 years ago. After the seminar we went to meet Professor Nguyen Van Man, one of the pioneering scientists in the movement of building the expanded immunization sector at that time.
Prof. Man recalled with emotion: “During 1957-1959 a polio epidemic broke out, causing panic and misery to thousands of families in the mountainous areas in northern Vietnam. Paralyzed children were seen everywhere, from the urban to rural areas….” Facing this challenge, the State sent Professor Hoang Thuy Nguyen to the former Soviet Union to research and learn about the technology of producing Sabin, a polio vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin (a Polish-American) in 1954-1955.
After receiving the Sabin vaccine production technology from the Soviet Union, Prof. Hoang Thuy Nguyen returned home and quickly established a group of scientists to produce the polio vaccine in Vietnam. Sabin vaccine was produced on the kidney cells of the yellow monkey (scientific name is Macaca mutala). However, at that time Vietnam did not have any monkey rearing facilities. To have a stable and sufficient source of materials for the research and production of the vaccine, the researchers proposed the establishment of a monkey rearing farm on Reu Island, a deserted island in Bai Tu Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province. As a result, in 1962 Vietnam produced two million doses of polio vaccine.
Thanks to the great progress of Vietnam’s vaccine sector, over 90% of Vietnamese children nationwide have been inoculated from the expanded immunization programme. Photo: Viet Cuong
However, while vaccine production achieved some initial success, Prof. Hoang Thuy Nguyen and his colleagues had to cope with new difficulties. These included the lack of objective information which led to a doubt about the effectiveness of the domestically-made vaccine, the favour of foreign products and the lack of trust in the ability of the local scientists. All these hampered the production of Sabin vaccine in the country.
With the encouragement of the then Party General Secretary Do Muoi who asked the scientists to consider self-reliance and self-sufficiency in vaccine production as a vital strategy, the Vietnamese scientists were determined to overcome all difficulties and challenges and coordinate with the large overseas laboratories to research and confirm the quality of the polio vaccine produced by Vietnam. Finally, the Vietnamese-made Sabin vaccine was recognized and used in the national expanded immunization programme. In 2000 the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised Vietnam’s elimination of polio, which served as a clear proof of the quality of the Vietnamese vaccine.
The successful production of the Sabin vaccine with international standards during war time was not only the pride of the Vietnamese scientists but also won the admiration of the countries with advanced vaccine production technology at that time, such as Japan and the former Soviet Union. This success has created a firm foundation for Vietnam to have an advanced vaccine production technology today.
Breakthrough of Vietnamese vaccines
To have a more complete view of Vietnam’s vaccine production capacity, we visited the Centre for Research and Production of Vaccines and Biology (POLYVAC) of the Health Ministry to have the information for this report. It is the place where the first doses of Sabin vaccine were produced in Vietnam in 1962, marking the start of the research and production of vaccines in Vietnam.
To be able to provide millions of doses of Sabin vaccines for the national expanded immunization campaign, the Scientific Centre for Sabin Vaccine Production (the former name of POLYVAC) was upgraded to an industrial scale with an advanced vaccine production technology transferred by Japan. Its Sabin vaccine was recognized by the Western Pacific -World Health Organization and Japan as reaching WHO standards. It was a turning point marking the development of the vaccine production technology of Vietnam.
Now, POLYVAC has a spacious modern facility and a measles vaccine plant which is the most modern factory in Vietnam and was completed in early 2006 with a total expenditure of over 20 million dollars from non-refundable aid of the Japanese Government. The plant is signing a Rubella vaccine project with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The project will be implemented for five years, from 2013 to 2017.
All of POLYVAC’s technology, machines and workshops have been transferred by Japan and have applied strict standards. Every six months Japanese experts come to Vietnam to maintain and check the machines. The vaccine production environment is always ensured to meet the international standards and is 100% automated. Each area in the plant is set with a different security level, so if the regulations are not complied, the machines will detect and sound an alarm.
POLYVAC Director Nguyen Dang Hien said that in 2012 the centre produced 300,000 doses of Rota vaccine to provide to the service market. Rota vaccine has a fairly high price because the world’s demand is great while the provision capacity is low. In 2013 the POLYVAC plant is the sole facility eligible to be licensed for producing the Rota vaccine. According to Director Hien, the plant can produce four million doses of vaccine per year. So, if the Ministry of Health includes Rota vaccine in the national expanded immunization programme on the roadmap to 2015, POLYVAC can provide this vaccine for the programme. The cost of POLYVAC’s Rota vaccine is much cheaper than that of other countries. So it is more competitive when it is exported.
Now, Vietnam has four vaccine plants with modern equipment and technology reaching international standards. They can provide enough vaccines for the national expanded immunization programme. At the end of 2012 they provided 11 categories of vaccines reaching international standards for free vaccination of women and children.
The development of both the quantity and quality of the domestic vaccines shows the great progress of the health sector in general and the preventive medicine of Vietnam in particular. At the 25th anniversary of the expanded immunization day, State President Truong Tan Sang directed the health sector to establish a roadmap to export the vaccines in which Vietnam has strength. This is a “lever” strategy for the Vietnamese vaccine sector to further develop.
Recently, the vaccines for people and animals in Vietnam has been selected by the Ministry of Science and Technology as one of the six main products of the National Product Development Programme to the year 2020 of the Government. With this programme, the vaccine sector has a great opportunity to develop and stretch out to contribute to the care and protection of health and physical development, accelerating the process of completing the fourth objective of the Millennium Development Goals. It is to reduce the death rate in children. Moreover, it can help Vietnam to become a large vaccine exporter in the region and the world.
Four vaccine plants with international standards of Vietnam:
1 / POLYVAC Measles Vaccine Plant.
2 / Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biology (IVAC).
3 / Da Lat Pasteur Vaccine Company (DAVAC).
4 / Company for Vaccines and Biological Production No. 1 (VABIOTECH).
Eleven Vietnamese-made vaccines include:
Tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping-cough, tetanus, measles, polio, hepatitis B, pneumonia / purulent meningitis caused by Hib, Japanese B encephalitis, cholera and typhoid.
The health sector’s cadres carry out the expanded immunization programme in mountain areas.
Inoculating the child with a measles vaccine at Hanoi Preventive Health Centre.
Thanks to the great progress of Vietnam’s vaccine sector, over 90% of Vietnamese children nationwide have been inoculated from the expanded immunization programme.
The most modern measles vaccine plant in Vietnam was built with over 20 million dollars funded by the Japanese Government.
The system of modern machines with international standards ensures a sanitary environment for producing a measles vaccine.
The stage of creating an environment for transplanting cells during the process of producing a measles vaccine.
The system’s technical parameters are regularly examined and adjusted.
Clean eggs without disease causing substances are imported from Germany.
All instruments are cleaned by WFI before being put into the steamer and dyer.
The process of cleaning and sterilizing vaccine bottles is strictly supervised.
Checking the chicken foetus cells before transplanting a measles vaccine.
Checking sterilization is a compulsory stage after finishing each stage of production.
Putting the cells into bottles for transplanting.
Taking samples for checking the quality of the solution for transplanting cells.
The product after the stage of seprating cells and creating an environment for cell transplantation.
Preparing to package vaccine tubes.
Transporting freeze-dried measles vaccine to the automatic tube capping machine.
The automatic tube capping machine in the vaccine production line.
Running the machine for bottling distilled water for inoculation.
The area for product packaging.
A delegation of Japanese experts visit POLYVAC Measles Vaccine Plant.
Vietnamese-made measles vaccine products.