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Expert warns of new possible Covid waves in Vietnam

By Le Phuong, Thuy Quynh   March 10, 2022 | 11:47 pm PT
Expert warns of new possible Covid waves in Vietnam
A patient that has recovered from Covid-19 talks with a doctor in HCMC, February 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Le Phuong
Vietnam could face at least one more Covid-19 wave in the next six months before it becomes endemic, a medical expert warned.

Do Van Dung, head of the Public Health Department at Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said a new wave is likely to appear unless most people have already developed "strong" antibodies.

Normally, those previously infected by or immunized against infectious diseases like Covid-19 will see their antibodies decrease over time, causing several different waves before endemic status is achieved.

"For now, antibodies among Vietnamese remain unstable and outbreaks will occur periodically," he told a local medical conference Thursday.

"I think we will experience one or two more Covid-19 waves caused by the Omicron strain and if they do not cause many severe cases or fatalities, Vietnam can look at Covid-19 as a common disease in around six months from now," said Dung.

A new wave is recognized when the number of infections recorded daily surges significantly compared to previous days, he said.

Truong Huu Khanh, an epidemiologist and a member of the National Board for Vaccine Evaluation, said Vietnam should treat Covid-19 as a common illness soon.

Currently, Vietnam is undergoing a new wave but with most patients experiencing mild symptoms and few severe cases thanks to the Omicron strain.

With Omicron dominating the new wave and "pushing away" the Delta strain, the pandemic should not be a burden anymore, said Khanh.

Hesitance over whether Covid-19 should be considered a common disease will cause many economic impacts, including the cost for testing and tracking down related cases.

Once it is a common disease, people will no longer have to do the test, which could be costly for some, but only take needed remedies to ease their symptoms, he said.

But Dung said a pandemic can only become an endemic when it circulates steadily in the community, with the number of cases remaining predictable at any given time.

It is necessary for herd immunity to be achieved while at the same time the healthcare sector must gain control of the pandemic, he said.

Many countries, even the U.S., have yet to treat Covid-19 as a common disease since it is still causing a death toll four-five times higher than the flu.

"Vietnam’s medical ability cannot be compared with the U.S. and our healthcare system is not yet strong enough to guarantee that there will be no Covid-19 fatalities, therefore we should not look at Covid-19 as a common disease yet," Dung said.

Tran Dac Phu, a senior advisor at Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said if there are no more new strains in future, or if there is a vaccine that is more effective against the new coronavirus, or a specific treatment drug, then Covid-19 could become a common disease by this year's end.

For now, the pandemic remains "unpredictable" as "new strains would cause new waves and it is possible that existing vaccines are no longer effective."

In January, the head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that "it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant and that we are in the end game."

Epidemiologist Adam Kucharski, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the South China Morning Post earlier this week that the next major variant of the coronavirus may emerge after the current "honeymoon period" of transmission, like what had happened before the appearance of the Delta variant last year.

 
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