Ease fully vaccinated into resuming 'new normal' life: experts

By Viet Tuan   September 6, 2021 | 11:20 pm PT
Ease fully vaccinated into resuming 'new normal' life: experts
A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine shot in HCMC's Thu Duc City, June 19, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Fully vaccinated individuals should be allowed to return to work and resume life in the "new normal" circumstances, several experts feel.

So far, Vietnam has vaccinated 21.4 million people with at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot. Over 3.1 million people have been fully vaccinated. The country aims to vaccinate 70 percent of its 96 million population by next year.

Ho Chi Minh City, epicenter of the current coronavirus wave, has 6.1 million people, or 88 percent of its population, having received at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot. The corresponding figure for Hanoi is over three million people, or 53 percent of its population, being vaccinated.

Truong Huu Khanh, former head of the infection-neurology department of the Children's Hospital 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, said authorities should build specific mechanisms and guidelines for vaccinated people to return to business and production, taking life back to the "new normal."

He said four categories of people should be considered: recovered Covid-19 patients; fully vaccinated individuals; those whose last Covid-19 shot was over 14 days prior, and young families.

Khanh explained that infected people would not be re-infected, while fully vaccinated people would experience few or no symptoms. Those who have received at least one vaccine shot and young families would also be less likely to experience severe symptoms, he added.

These groups of people resuming "new normal" lives is a way to sustain resources to serve the coronavirus fight in the long run, he said.

"If we wait until 70 percent of the population is vaccinated and herd immunity is achieved to open up, it would be very long. Meanwhile, we need to recover and sustain production, businesses and economic growth right now," Khanh stressed.

Just as localities have implemented social distancing orders and lockdowns gradually across specific area, the same should be applied for vaccination, and lockdowns should also be lifted gradually in areas with high vaccination rates, he said.

Over the last two years, Vietnam has learned valuable lessons in fighting a pandemic. Therefore, it is time to strike a balance between fighting the virus and protecting the economy, Khanh said.

For example, policies should be formulated to determine where vaccinated individuals can go. As vaccinated people could still spread the disease in close contact, they can be allowed to go to places with no elderly people or those with underlying conditions, Khanh suggested.

"It means that guidelines need to be specific to determine places one is allowed to go to, so even if infections occur, they would not be as dangerous," he said.

Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, may start to gradually open up as a large percentage of its adult population (over 18) has been vaccinated. Other localities with similarly high vaccination rates could consider following suit.

"It may start small, but we should act in the spirit of utilizing every chance we get: where vaccination has covered the population, restrictions could be lifted as well. As more areas open up, we can create chains of such areas until the entire country achieves herd immunity," Khanh said.

'Immediate' return

Nguyen Huy Nga, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, said fully vaccinated people need to return to production "immediately." Ensuring an unbroken supply chain is just as important as fighting the virus, he said.

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor for the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said fully vaccinated people would still need to abide by coronavirus control measures like wearing masks and keeping distances. Vaccines help reduce the chance of getting severe symptoms and dying, but they cannot protect one absolutely from infections and from infecting others. Such chances are still "concerning," especially as Vietnam has yet to achieve herd immunity, Phu said.

He also cited a recent research by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) which said the viral load of a vaccinated individual is relatively the same as an unvaccinated one, meaning their chances of infection are the same.

"To reach high disease prevention effectiveness among the community, at least 70 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated," he added.

Localities where herd immunity has been achieved should have their own policies to let vaccinated people resume life in the "new normal." Policymakers should also consider the fact that people may move from one area with high vaccination rate to another with low vaccination rate and plan accordingly, said Phu.

"If we open up, we need to make careful calculations to prevent vaccinated people from infecting unvaccinated ones, leading to severe Covid-19 cases and high death rates."

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