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Covid-19 could become endemic in Vietnam next year: experts

By Le Phuong, Thuy An   November 18, 2021 | 06:15 am PT
Covid-19 could become endemic in Vietnam next year: experts
People browse for books on a book street of HCMC, which was opened after four months of closure due to Covid-19, October 9, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Covid-19 may go from being a pandemic to becoming an endemic disease in Vietnam, similar to seasonal flu, as early as 2022, experts predict.

Nguyen Huy Nga, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, said this pandemic's trajectory was difficult to anticipate due to multiple variables. There are fully vaccinated individuals who are still turning severely ill, for example, he said.

"This virus's patterns are quite special," said Nga. The flu virus often shows up during cold seasons and rarely during the summer, but the novel coronavirus thrives even in African countries or southern Vietnam localities, where temperatures are usually high, he said.

The coronavirus’s capacity for mutation poses another challenge to the global Covid-19 fight as well. In August, Takeshi Kasai, the WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said new variants could spread more quickly, cause more severe symptoms and reduce vaccine effectiveness.

With Vietnam’s current vaccine coverage, Nga said the pandemic could end either in 2022 or 2023, but would not be extinguished entirely. Instead, it may become an endemic disease, similar to seasonal flu, he said.

Do Van Dung, head of the Public Health department of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, also anticipated that Covid-19 would become endemic in Vietnam by the second quarter of 2022 thanks to the vaccination campaign.

"When around 90 percent of the population is vaccinated, the Covid-19 situation would be quite stable, even more so than the flu," said Dung, explaining that the normal flu vaccine has a lower efficacy than the Covid-19 vaccine.

Many people don't get vaccinated against the flu as they don't think much of it, but Covid-19 is a different beast, said Dung.

"The flu has been around for a very long time, and people have been infected multiple times throughout their lifetime, so it would be less likely for it to turn severe. In the long run, Covid-19 could become an endemic disease like the flu, with a death rate possibly even lower than the flu if people are fully vaccinated," he said.

Truong Huu Khanh, an advisor for the Children's Hospital 1, said once vaccine coverage reaches over 90 percent, Covid-19 would become an ordinary disease. People could then be treated using antivirals, he added.

"Obviously there will be severe cases. We just have to focus on treating them," said Khanh.

Cause for concern

Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long had said earlier that the trajectory of Covid-19 was difficult to predict not only for Vietnam but also for other countries due to the presence of multiple variants.

As the winter season and the Tet festival approach, experts are worried there would be more activities with large gatherings and people would become more negligent, leading to a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.

Nga said cold temperatures and the lack of sunlight would be opportunities for the virus to thrive and spread quicker. People could also mistake Covid-19 symptoms for other diseases like the common cold or the flu, he warned.

Experts say the best way forward is to keep the virus under control to make it through the upcoming Tet festival unscathed.

Nguyen Viet Hung, deputy chairman of the Hanoi Infection Control Society, said reopening and living with the virus meant accepting that Covid-19 is here to stay. The goal is to prevent a surge in severe Covid-19 cases that could overwhelm hospitals and to prevent deaths.

"By Tet, most adults and some children above 12 would have been fully vaccinated. Outbreaks can happen anywhere, but they would stay under control and most localities would be at low and medium coronavirus risks, allowing people to travel like they do right now," Hung said.

More Covid-19 prevention measures mean less chance of the situation spiraling out of control, said Dung. However, too many restrictions would grind society to a halt, he added.

"Relaxing restrictions means more cases, but tightening them means deep social impacts. Therefore, I support vaccination and other basic coronavirus prevention measures. Restrictions that disrupt society like closing down workplaces and schools should not be resorted to," Dung said.

Nguyen Hong Ha, deputy chairman of the Vietnamese Association for Infectious Diseases, said all localities should remain on guard, quickly vaccinate people and ensure that they properly follow coronavirus prevention measures. Failure to do so can spark a new Covid-19 wave, he warned.

Nga said coronavirus cases should not be isolated in a centralized manner, and mild Covid-19 cases and their close contacts should be quarantined at home to relieve the burden on both patients and the medical system.

"Pushing all coronavirus cases into hospitals would deprive the medical system of resources to treat other conditions like strokes and dengue fever, or even spark new outbreaks inside hospitals themselves," Nga said.

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