My Experience Getting Vaccinated in Vietnam

By Niall Mackay

Waiting To Go In

Table of Contents

As I write, Vietnam is battling hard against its fourth wave, in my opinion, its first wave. The waves before were dealt with, and went away quickly and life moved on. While we watched the rest of the world deal with the hardships of Covid-19, thanks to early action from the Vietnamese Government, life continued on pretty much as normal here.

The Delta Variant has changed everything.

A small outbreak surfaced in April in the north. Again aggressive action was taken to contain it, and life in Saigon continued on as normal.

Just as the outbreak was being contained in the north, out of nowhere the first case of this wave was identified in Saigon, and more cases quickly followed.

It did not take long before new cases were popping up all over the city. In previous waves Patient Zero was identified relatively quickly. Contact tracing found people that could also be infected and they were taken to quarantine for isolation, or hospital if they tested positive.

This time the tactics that had worked before couldn’t work fast enough to contain the outbreak. Cases skyrocketed.

Saigon went from 0 cases on April 28th to 104 on May 14th, 398 on June 15th to a staggering record of 9,225 on July 24th.

News Update;

July 30th VN Express International

Covid Rates in Saigon

Social distancing measures started on May 31st for 15 days in an effort to curb the outbreak. 60 days later the measures have only become stricter and the outbreak continues to run rampant in Saigon.

I’ve always considered myself a fortunate person, but right now I am one of the luckiest people in Vietnam. Receiving my first Astrazenaca shot on July 29th, I am one of just 5,000,000 people in this southeast Asian country to have received one dose of any vaccine. In a country of 96m people, I am one of the 5% to receive a vaccine shot. Only 450,000 have been fully vaccinated. I feel very, very lucky.

I received my vaccine through my job as a teacher, but there was a wide variety of people there to receive their first shot due to the mass vaccination program being rolled out in Saigon at the moment. Nearly 700,000 doses arrived the day of my vaccination, out of 30 million already purchased by Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC) from AstraZeneca.

This is my experience receiving the vaccine at a makeshift vaccination site at a Primary School in Thu Duc.

I’ll outline my experience in getting the vaccine and especially the process on the day. Other people I know who have had the vaccine elsewhere had a different experience so this is only my perspective.

Invitation To Be Vaccinated - Don’t Miss Your Appointment Like I Nearly Did!

Thanks to my job at an education provider my company secured a place on the vaccination list and enough shots for over 850 staff members. As Saigon is the epicentre of the current outbreak the Vietnamese Government is targeting this region to combat the spread.

We were, first of all, asked to register for the vaccine program if we wished to be included. Of course, I did. This was 7 days before the vaccination date, which was unknown at the time.

I had already seen from friends that received the vaccine and forewarned in the communications from my company that you could receive your notification at short notice. As short as 1-2 hours. So we were to keep an eye on our emails and messages from work.

Vaccinations started on Monday of about 100 people and this continued at roughly the same rate for the week. This process moves fast and is fluid. So if it is your turn be patient and understanding. To me, it is a mind-bending logistical feat to carry this out.

I anxiously waited for my appointment. With a couple of confusing messages, I had no clue what I was in store for

Then, at 12.34 pm on Thursday, I received an email from HR saying my appointment had been scheduled with the relevant documentation. Like many of us in lockdown, I barely know what year it is anymore, let alone the day. So I read the email and got excited to get my shot on Friday as I’d been last told. I went back to what I was doing.

Then at exactly 1.34 pm, I messaged my colleague, to see if he had seen the email about our appointment.

I hadn’t paid attention to the Subject which clearly said July 29th.

My lockdown brain hadn’t realised that July 29th was today, and it was now! Panicking that I’d missed my chance for the vaccine, I quickly made sure I had the documents I needed, the invitation ready to show the inspection points, jumped on my bike and headed to the vaccination site.

Email from HR at 12.34pm
I didn't realise it was today!

Make sure to take plenty of water with you, have phone credit and a full battery, and dress appropriately for the weather. Especially now that it’s rainy season in Saigon.

Getting There When Roads Are Blocked

Heading to the vaccination site I was prepared to be stopped at checkpoints along the way. We were given the Vaccine Invitation from our HR in English and Vietnamese to show these checkpoints. I passed two along the way which was intimidating in itself but I was waved through with no problems when I showed them the document.

It was a surreal experience driving along the usually chaotic Saigon streets, now desolate.

The Wait Begins (2.30 pm)

My vaccination site was in a primary school at the end of a narrow Hem (Lane). I arrived at 2.30 pm and parked my bike and joined a silent huddled mass at the gate. No social distancing, nowhere to sit. But people seemed excited to be out of their homes and to receive their vaccine. I realised where the end of the line was and joined.

They let in around 5-6 people at a time through the metal sliding gate, and it took 40 minutes to get in

Wait To Give Your ID And Get Your Paperwork (3.10 pm)

You now get a socially distanced plastic stool from which most of us are used to drinking beer. Oh, how things have changed. You wait to give your passport or ID to the amazingly good-natured staff who then input your details into their laptop. When ready they pass back your ID with a form with a number on top and told not to fill it in. The staff spoke enough English to instruct you and the process was easy enough to follow intuitively.

Wait To Get Tested (3.30 pm)

I hadn’t expected to get a covid test before I got my covid vaccine but it made sense. I joined another line of socially distanced plastic stools that you hopped off and on as the line progressed forward. 

Things Take An Unexpected Turn (4.10 pm)

As I’m sitting about to have a cotton swab stuck up my nose I’m suddenly asked to stand up and ushered to stand to the side. The line has moved up and I can’t return to my seat. There is a look of confusion on the testing staff’s face which I didn’t realise was probably panic not confusion.

To add to the dramatic scene the rain has started to come down even harder, the sky is dark, and even though we’re under a cover people are still getting wet.

A man in blue comes over with the disinfectant pump and starts spraying exactly where I was sitting and all around the area. At this point, I’m not exactly sure what is happening. It is only once they bring back four people to be tested again does it dawn on me the seriousness of what is happening in front of me. Someone has tested positive in the rapid-fire tests.

All four are retested and the staff scrutinise the results to make sure they are seeing what they are seeing. The person who has tested positive is swiftly removed to another location on the premises. The negative cases continue in the vaccination process and I am eventually reseated and tested. Thankfully it was negative!

Wait In The Waiting Room (4.20 pm)

Now you give your paperwork to another staff member and wait on a socially distanced school chair with others in a classroom. Now that we’ve been tested the process starts to move a lot quicker.

Complete Paperwork (4.40pm)

Once your name is called you move to a small school desk outside the classroom to complete your paperwork with your personal information and answer the usual covid questions about possible symptoms or exposure.

Get Your Vitals Taken (4.45 pm)

Another plastic stool, still no beer, you wait just a few minutes to have your blood pressure taken and a quick check on how you are feeling. I am reminded again just how amazing the Vietnamese people are. My examiner is in full head-to-toe PPE gear – gloves, face mask, full-body covering. Yet couldn’t be more cheery and happy to talk to me and make sure I was ok. I thanked him for his efforts and he seemed genuinely taken aback at this. This may be a long and slow process for you but please think of the workers and be kind and patient. A small thank you goes a long way. 

See The Doctor (4.50 pm)

Moving even faster now as the line thins out as we reach the end process you give the Doctor your paperwork with all your vitals and information. If everything is ok they will stamp and sign your form so you can move onto the final step! Get vaccinated.

THIS IS IMPORTANT!
Only at this point are you asked if you have any allergies. If you are allergic to antibiotics such as Amoxycillin you CANNOT get the vaccine outside of a hospital. Due to the side effects, you may face you need to get the vaccine in a proper medical facility so you can get the care you need if you need it.

Get Vaccinated! (4.55pm)

This whole process has taken place in a school! Each stage moves you into the school courtyard and then around the perimeter.

After seeing the doctor you move to the penultimate stage, get the jab. This was the quickest and simplest stage of the whole day, just one person in front of me.

It was completely painless and done in moments.

Wait One More Time (5 pm)

You’re moved next door to the final stage to wait thirty minutes to make sure you don’t have any immediate adverse reaction. You hand over your paperwork one more time and take a seat on a plastic stool. Still no beer sadly.

When time is up they call your name, ask if you’re ok, stamp your vaccine paperwork and you are free to go.

Ok, Wait Just One More Time

With just one more paperwork check, I was out the door, a newly vaccinated person. By now everyone who was here to be vaccinated has been processed. The check is completed in a couple of minutes and then I can leave.

Some staff are starting to disrobe from their PPE while another comes out with a sprayer to disinfect the area. The rain is still coming down, the sky is getting darker but there it feels lighter knowing I’ve had my first shot. But now I’m filled with anxiety about driving the desolate streets home and through the checkpoints.

I painlessly pass back through two checkpoints on the trip home. On the outward trip, the streets had some traffic. Now they were empty. Every shop was shut. Not even a truck on the road as the 6 pm curfew approached. The strangeness and seriousness of these times hit me.

I feel eternally grateful to be part of the 5% and I am glad that more vaccines are on their way soon for the people of Vietnam.

When it is your turn, have all your documentation, water, appropriate clothing and most of all be kind and courteous to the amazing staff putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver these shots.

I cracked open a beer to celebrate when I got home, but alas still no plastic stool. That can wait until it’s safe to do so and we can all enjoy a beer together.

Side Effects?

I’d heard different experiences to the Astrazeneca vaccine and my wife was quite ill in the 24-36 hours after (fever, chills, headache).

It’s now been about 30 hours since I received the shot. Last night I felt fine. Today I have been a little bit achey, had a small headache for a short time and low on energy. But as recommended I took some paracetamol and it helped. So also make sure you have those at home and drink lots of water. That’s not just for a hangover! 

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