Covid-19 not a thing of the past: experts

By Chi Le   April 28, 2022 | 06:11 am PT
Covid-19 not a thing of the past: experts
Molnupiravir pills, a Covid-19 drug, are produced at the Boston Vietnam company in Binh Duong. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
It is not appropriate for Vietnam to declare the Covid-19 pandemic over in the country despite falling numbers of infections and deaths, experts say.

"The number of infections is falling, but this is not enough to declare the pandemic finished," Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor of the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said Thursday.

Citing current Vietnamese laws and policies, which say that one of the conditions to declare an infectious disease epidemic to be over is the lack of any new infection for 28 days, Phu said.

Vietnam was still recording new Covid-19 infections every day, and there was no guarantee that no new infection would pop up in the future.

In the past seven days, the daily number of new Covid-19 infections has hovered around 9,000 on average, a 16 percent reduction from the previous seven-day average. The number of recorded daily deaths also fell to the lowest in 10 months.

Echoing Phu, Do Van Dung, head of the public health department of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said immunity provided by vaccines and infections would wane over time, meaning the virus would not have gone away completely. The number of infections can always rise in the future, so the pandemic cannot be declared over right now, he said."

In my opinion, declaring the Covid-19 pandemic over now would deliver no benefit," he added.

A major challenge is the fact that many of the Covid-19 vaccines and drugs in use have only been approved for emergency use. In the U.S., Covid-19 vaccines and drugs are approved for emergency use under the EUA license by the FDA. That license would expire once the emergency state is declared over, effectively rendering void previous approvals of drugs and vaccines for emergency use.

So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved in the U.S.

It is for this reason that several countries have decided to extend their own emergency status due to Covid-19. Similarly, for Vietnam, the emergency status would allow the government and health authorities greater flexibility in deploying measures to protect public health.

An expert who wished to remain anonymous said current Covid-19 drugs and vaccines have been approved by the Ministry of Health for emergencies. Their licenses would not be revoked even if the government declared the pandemic over. However, businesses would still have to provide more documents to prove their products’ safety and effectiveness in order to gain full approval.

Dung said Vietnam has never declared an emergency state due to Covid-19, but did include the disease among the list of especially dangerous infectious diseases, which allowed authorities to approve the use of drugs even when they’d not been fully researched. However, such an exception should not be continued either when the pandemic is declared to be over or Covid-19 is removed from the list of especially dangerous infectious diseases as it may set a "negative precedent", allowing future diseases to become similar exceptions, he added.

Additionally, declaring the pandemic to be over may cause people to become less vigilant about disease prevention, Dung added.

"Even the U.S. has not dared to end its emergency state," Dung said, citing an article from the New England Journal of Medicine. Vietnam should maintain its current status even while relaxing Covid-19 restrictions so life can return to normal, he added.

Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son said last Tuesday that the government will be responsible for declaring the pandemic over, but did not elaborate. Phu said Vietnam should keep monitoring the global Covid-19 situation and step up study of coronavirus variants.

Dung said Vietnam needs to finish vaccinating its child population before deciding what to do next.

Meanwhile, Doctor Tran Si Tuan said the health ministry should remove Covid-19 from the list of especially dangerous infectious diseases instead of declaring the pandemic over. With high vaccine coverage and low numbers of infections and deaths, hospitals can now treat Covid-19 like any other disease, he added.

Vietnam can continue taking certain basic prevention measures, for example wearing masks and avoiding large crowds in enclosed spaces, he added.

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