HANOI (REUTERS) - Vietnam's health minister said on Wednesday (June 2) that Russia had agreed to provide it with 20 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V this year, as the South-east Asian country races to secure supplies to expedite mass inoculations.
Vietnam approved the Russian vaccine in March but has stepped up its procurement push after being hit by its biggest outbreak so far, although its overall cases and fatality numbers remain relatively low.
"Vietnam is trying to get access to Covid-19 vaccine sources to speed up its vaccination roll-out at the earliest," Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a statement announcing the Sputnik V agreement.
State President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Wednesday sent a letter to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin seeking assistance on coronavirus, after a similar request to United States President Joe Biden.
Vietnamese media reported last month that a research centre under the health ministry was in talks to produce Sputnik V locally.
The Health Minister said on Wednesday a government company, Vabiotech, will begin packaging Russian vaccines from July, with a monthly capacity of five million doses.
"This is an important step for Russia to transfer its vaccine production technology to Vietnam," Mr Nguyen said.
He said Vietnam is nearing its target of acquiring 150 million doses of vaccines this year to inoculate 75 per cent of the 98 million population.
Vietnam had previously sought up to 40 million doses of Sputnik V but Russia said delivery of those would be by the end of next year.
The country has taken delivery of nearly 2.9 million doses of coronavirus vaccine so far, mostly that of AstraZeneca, and about one million have been administered.
It has recorded 49 deaths and just 7,675 cases overall, although nearly 60 per cent of the infections were in the past month.