HCMC relies on vaccines in brace against Omicron

By Le Phuong   February 25, 2022 | 03:00 am PT
HCMC relies on vaccines in brace against Omicron
A man receives the Covid-19 vaccine in HCMC in 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen
With the fast-moving Omicron strain dominating new Covid-19 cases, Ho Chi Minh City considers vaccines as key to its pandemic fight.

According to the HCMC's Center for Disease Control (CDC), the city will continue boosting its vaccination progress of the past few months.

Tang Chi Thuong, director of the municipal Health Department and representative of the CDC, said to strengthen immunity against the Omicron mutation, vaccination is an "extremely important measure."

Authorities in 21 districts and Thu Duc City have been requested to boost their vaccination progress and encourage all children aged 12 to 18 to get two doses and all adults, their third dose.

Since Feb. 7, the city had administered 117,000 vaccine doses, including 85,000 third shots.

The city will continue the campaign it had launched last December to review people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, meaning those over 65, with chronic diseases and obese children, for regular testing to timely treat them should they get infected.

"The Health Department will propose the Ministry of Health to soon provide guidance on testing and tracing the Omicron strain. It is not necessary to carry out viral genome sequencing for every Covid-19 case since the process is very expensive," Thuong said.

Random screening from Feb. 10 to 17 found the Omicron variant responsible for 70 of 92 samples that tested positive for the novel coronavirus in HCMC.

"We have enough scientific evidence to prove the Omicron variant has become dominant in the city," Thuong said.

The latest finding also explains the recent increase in the number of daily cases recorded in the city, as the Omicron variant spreads faster than the Delta, he added.

In the past 14 days, the number of Covid-19 cases recorded daily in the city has surged by 530 percent against the previous two weeks.

But until now, the number of severe Covid-19 patients and deaths "has not showed signs of increasing," according to the Health Department.

At a city meeting on Tuesday, Party Chief Nguyen Van Nen said vaccines and drugs are "important weapons" to respond to Covid-19.

He said it is necessary to vaccinate children under 12 as soon as possible and review all people from 12 years old that have not received the jab.

He also ordered related units to prepare for distributing Covid-19 drugs as long as the Ministry of Health gives the green light and maps out specific plans to treat child Covid-19 patients now that schools have reopened.

However, the party chief also warned of the high risks caused by the sub-variant BA.2, which has been said to cause more harmful effects and spread even more quickly.

"We have to prepare ourselves for the situation in which rapid tests fail to detect the sub-variant or existing vaccines could not protect patients infected with it," said Nen.

The healthcare sector must soon issue a step-by-step guideline to ward and district authorities on what to do should a Covid-19 cluster form in the community.

In this period, the city would not impose a lockdown under any circumstances but simply locate the infected for testing and protect the high-risk group.

Experts predict the number of infections would increase in the coming time because of Omicron, which has been scientifically confirmed to spread faster than Delta, but this should not be cause for concern.

Truong Huu Khanh, an epidemiologist and a member of the National Board for Vaccine Evaluation, said "it is a good sign" now that Omicron has replaced Delta to dominate coronavirus infections in the city as studies have shown this strain causes milder symptoms and allows patients to recover faster.

Do Van Dung, head of the Public Health department of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said with Omicron becoming the dominant coronavirus strain, the number of daily cases would "certainly increase," but the number of severe cases and deaths would depend on the vaccination rate and public compliance with pandemic prevention and control measures.

For fully vaccinated people with no underlying health conditions, being infected with Omicron "should not be scary" as the risk for them to contract severe Covid-19 is low and in case they got Omicron, they would be equipped with even stronger antibodies once they recover.

However, it should be noticed that they could still spread the virus to others, especially young children and the elderly, he said, warning healthy and fully vaccinated people against letting their guard down.

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