Covid infection surge without deaths can facilitate herd immunity: expert

By Le Phuong, Le Cam   November 10, 2021 | 08:00 pm PT
Covid infection surge without deaths can facilitate herd immunity: expert
A health worker instructs a Covid-19 patient on rehabilitation at a hospital in HCMC's District 8, September 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
High Covid-19 infection rates with low numbers of severe cases and deaths can push HCMC towards herd immunity. However, the new normal can't return to the old normal.

After spending four months under social distancing measures, Ho Chi Minh City began reopening in October, allowing numerous businesses, services and activities to resume operations.

In the beginning, when restrictions had just been relaxed, the southern city recorded around 2,000-3,000 cases a day. As more people got vaccinated, the number of new cases dropped from October 10 to around 1,000 cases a day, and gradually slowed down the days after.

But as more businesses started to open up and people went out more, the number of cases began to rise, albeit slightly. On Wednesday, HCMC recorded 1,414 new cases, its highest daily tally in the past three weeks.

The city as a whole has been classified at medium risk for novel coronavirus infections. Two districts, Can Gio and Nha Be, have been determined as high risk areas due to the presence of outbreaks, mostly among workers in industrial parks and their family members.

Doctor Truong Huu Khanh, an advisor for the Children’s Hospital 1 in District 10, said the rise in the number of cases was inevitable as the city reopened, even with high vaccination rates. If the cases don’t turn severe or fatal thanks to vaccinations, it would help the city achieve herd immunity, he said.

"If Covid-19 patients still turn critical or die after vaccination, we need to carefully evaluate the type of vaccine that was used, its effectiveness, the time between two shots and other factors in order to formulate plans for Covid-19 booster shots," Khanh said.

Nguyen Minh Tien, deputy director of the municipal Children's Hospital, said while HCMC has high vaccination rates, infections could still rise as more people return to the city for work and more businesses start to reopen, especially when people don't follow coronavirus prevention measures.

"Vaccine coverage and adaptation with safety are inevitable approaches. To live alongside the virus, people must follow prevention measures and form new habits," Tien said.

He said people were getting infected inside industrial parks because of closed spaces and difficulties in maintaining distance while working, adding that asymptomatic patients may pass on the virus to co-workers without knowing it.

Habits for the new normal

Tien also cautioned that those who have already received two Covid-19 vaccine shots can still get infected, with the chances estimated at 7-13 percent by different studies. Most of the people who do get infected, however, have mild symptoms and very few cases turn severe or die.

Le Quoc Hung, head of the Tropical Disease Department of the Cho Ray Hospital, said vaccinated individuals may be protected from severe symptoms, but not actual infections, meaning that they may still pass on the virus to someone else.

"Large gatherings and not abiding by Covid-19 prevention measures may ruin our coronavirus fighting efforts so far," he warned.

Just because the city has opened up doesn't mean people could resume all activities at pre-pandemic levels, said Hung. The reopening must happen gradually and coronavirus prevention measures must still remain in place, he added.

Besides its own residents, HCMC is also vaccinating people from other localities that are not vaccinated. So far, over 7.8 million people in the city have been vaccinated with at least one shot, and 5.8 million people have received the prescribed two doses.

However, the city is yet to publish an official record of Covid-19 patients who have contracted the disease even after vaccination. A small-scale survey at the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases revealed that 86 percent of Covid-19 patients at the hospital have received at least one vaccine shot, and most of them have milder symptoms than those who are not vaccinated.

Several experts have concurred that people would need to learn new habits in the "new normal" in order to successfully adapt to living with the virus.

"When you go out, you need to remember that you will still have to go back home and to your workplaces," said Khanh, adding that people should be careful and ensure that they do not infect relatives and colleagues.

People should practice keeping a safe distance while shopping at the supermarket or shift to doing it online. They should refrain from going to places with large crowds, and if they develop symptoms like fever or sore throat, they should have the rapid Covid-19 test done instead of going straight to the pharmacy, he said.

Tien suggested that industrial parks and other workplaces must require employees to make medical declarations. They can perform mass Covid-19 tests weekly if the situation calls for such screening, he said.

"Even if outbreaks have largely been put under control, one should not be negligent," he stressed, noting that several countries like Indonesia, Thailand and India were also seeing new surges in infections. In the Mekong Delta, localities like Bac Lieu, Soc Trang and Tra Vinh are seeing a rising number of cases as well.

Medical management authorities should keep track of daily infection tally to anticipate risks of new outbreaks, Tien said, adding that booster shots should be given to bolster the population’s immunity.

HCMC has recorded 442,630 Covid-19 cases so far in the fourth wave and remains the most severely hit locality in Vietnam.

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