The Vietnamese government can rightly be proud of the great strides made in its vaccine rollout, but needs to do better in addressing the economic fallout of the pandemic.
On the very first day of the New Year, the Facebook page of the Vietnamese government usually puts out messages designed to provide an update on the country’s progress or chalk out the year’s socio-economic targets. But in a clear departure from norms this year, the government chose to devote its entire New Year message to its success in expediting Vietnam’s vaccination drive.
The government’s Facebook post pointed out that since Vietnam launched a fund to finance efforts to secure much-needed doses of Covid shots last June, the country’s top leaders have diligently enlisted the international community in donating more vaccines, speeding up shipments of commercial deals, and bolstering production technology transfer. The post ended on a positive note: ‘The success of the vaccination drive was a decisive factor that enable Vietnam to rein in the pandemic, reopen the economy, and integrate into “the new normal” era.’
Vietnam is now among the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. As of January 6, nearly 87 million people, or 90 per cent of Vietnam’s adult population, have received at least one dose of vaccine; around 73 per cent have been fully inoculated. The country started vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 last November and aims to administer booster shots for the adult population by the end of the first quarter of this year.
Indeed, the strides made in Vietnam’s vaccination rollout were no small feat for a country where, until late May 2021, only 1 per cent of the total population had gotten shots in arms, then the lowest vaccination rate in Southeast Asia after East Timor.
It is therefore no surprise that the Vietnamese government tapped into its vaccine rollout as a key New Year message. It represents a much-needed boost at a time when the ongoing pandemic has threatened to dent the hard-earned public confidence the government was able to engender a year earlier.
The government’s New Year message on vaccine rollout has garnered significant public attention online, cracking the list of the top 15 most engaged posts since November 2021 on its Facebook page, which has amassed three million followers. Of over 1,100 comments in response to the post, an overwhelming majority of Internet users heaped fulsome praises on the government. The most salient keywords that encapsulated such sentiments included ‘so proud Vietnam’, ‘thank you the [Communist] Party, the state and the government’, and ‘wonderful Vietnam’s diplomacy’.
The positive public response appears to be the culmination of months-long messaging efforts that look to capitalise on the absence of vaccine hesitancy in a country where according to a YouGov survey, 96 per cent of respondents polled between September and December 2021 said they would be willing to take a Covid-19 shot.
But intriguingly, that strong level of support [for social safety nets] appears to have been amplified by pro-government Facebook groups … [when] data from pro-government Facebook pages were excluded, public support levels show a flat line at a dismally low level
A recent analysis of public sentiment online between May and October 2021 by ISEAS showed that since the worst wave of Covid-19 infections hit Vietnam, vaccine rollout was the only aspect of the government’s pandemic policy response where the public has been more supportive rather than critical. (The analysis also gauged public responses to the government’s social safety nets and public communications.) Our updated analysis shows that the government has continued to enjoy public support of its vaccine rollout since November 2021 and after the New Year message (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Public support for Vietnam’s vaccine rollout still riding high
However, the Vietnamese government cannot afford to rest on its laurels as sentiments still remain sour on other aspects of its Covid-19 response. Since Vietnam entered its reopening phase last October, the implementation of central guidelines on pandemic controls has still been subject to conflicting interpretations and dogged by red tape across provinces, further needling a pandemic-fatigued public.
Since November 2021, the masses have remained disenchanted when it comes to social safety nets. According to our updated analysis, there were two sharp spikes in public support in late December (Figure 2a), when the government dialled up its ‘no-one-is-left-behind‘ rhetoric. But intriguingly, that strong level of public support appears to have been amplified by pro-government Facebook groups. As Figure 2b shows, when data from pro-government Facebook pages were excluded, public support levels show a flat line at a dismally low level. That was not the case as far as public sentiments on the vaccine rollout were concerned.
Figure 2a: December peaks in public support for social safety nets rollouts artificially amplified
Figure 2b: Support flatlines when data from pro-government sources are removed
A survey conducted by the United Nations Development Program and the Mekong Development Research Institute between mid-September and mid-October last year found that informal workers, poor households and those affected by protracted pandemic lockdowns felt ‘greater negative impact on employment and income.’ The survey also confirmed pronounced public frustration in the accessibility and effectiveness of a government stimulus package totalling VND26 trillion (US$1.1 billion) designed to support those pandemic-hit pockets of the population.
Moving into 2022, crafting policies to protect those most vulnerable to the pandemic’s economic impacts will present a litmus test for the Vietnamese government. That is likely to make or break public confidence in a country where another wave of Covid-19 infections is all but inevitable.
The author would like to thank Amirul Adli Rosli, Research Officer at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, for his contribution to the analysis of data for this Fulcrum piece.
Dien Nguyen An Luong is Visiting Fellow with the Media, Technology and Society Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.