What Vietnam needs for successful Covid vaccination campaign

By Viet Anh    June 28, 2021 | 10:00 pm PT
Vietnam needs online booking system, mass vaccination clinics and a strong surveillance system for side effects along with public support to ensure a successful Covid-19 immunization program, experts say.

The country is carrying out its biggest vaccination campaign in history, and aims to procure 150 million doses of vaccines to cover 70 percent of its 96-million population this year.

Professor Jin Dong-Yan of the University of Hong Kong said Vietnam could consider using the online registration system for vaccination that has proved efficient in Hong Kong.

At the vaccination centers chairs are placed 1.5 meters apart, he said.

"With this arrangement, organizers can observe social distancing, so the risk of virus transmission is minimal."

Authorities are using sports centers for vaccination, and so Hong Kong is able to vaccinate more than 50,000 people each day, he said.

The government could allow various voluntary groups to run vaccination centers, he said, adding his university is for instance mobilizing its nursing faculty alumni for the task.

People in HCMC participate in a vaccination program on June 24. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

People in HCMC participate in a large-scale vaccination program on June 24, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Dr Litjen Tan, chief strategy officer, Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), the U.S, said Vietnam could set up mass vaccination clinics (MVC) that have been proving effective in his country.

IAC is a non-profit organization that in partnership with the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) distributes information about vaccines and the diseases they prevent.

MVCs help administer vaccines to a large number of people in a relatively short period of time, enabling the rapid and efficient immunization of communities. The clinics are frequently in non-traditional or temporary settings such as parking lots and large indoor spaces.

Patient flow is managed in a variety of ways such as walk-through, drive-through and curbside clinics or by using mobile medical units.

"Organizers must separate people as they come in to get vaccines to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission," Tan said.

Vietnam should make sure there is convenient vaccine access for people, he emphasized, explaining they should be able to get vaccines wherever they go, like government clinics, shopping centers and grocery stores, from pharmacists trained to vaccinate.

There should be a strong system to monitor side effects in people getting the vaccines, with health workers investigating everything that happens after the shot, he said.

Vietnam has received almost 4.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine via the Covax mechanism, contracts and donations. The country has vaccinated almost 3.5 million people, including more than 172,000 who have received two shots.

Dr. Jason Kindrachuk of the University of Manitoba, Canada, said with Vietnam not having an abundant supply of vaccines it could consider giving people just one dose, a strategy that has been working well in Canada.

Authorities give one shot to a large number of people as quickly as possible instead of two to half that number, and there is decreased infection among people who are vaccinated, he said. This is also protecting people from severe manifestation of the disease even if infected, he said.

"As a result, Canada has the ability to decrease the stress on the healthcare system, and reduce transmission rates in some of the hotspot areas."

Nonetheless, Vietnam needs to ensure vulnerable groups like seniors and people with underlying health conditions or are immunocompromised get a second shot between 8-12 weeks following the first one, he said.

People's support

Jin said it is critical that Vietnam, like other countries, builds public trust and confidence in vaccines. Its authorities have to tell the truth to the public, that there are side effects, including severe ones like blood clotting, complications and deaths, but that they are rare, he said.

In Vietnam, at least three people have died following vaccination, with only one case determined to be linked to the vaccine shot.

The public needs to know that people who have allergies, high blood pressure and underlying diseases are eligible for vaccination, Jin said.

The Hong Kong government has been working with the private sector to set up various promotion programs to encourage people to get vaccines, with a person able to win a house or car if they take part in the lucky draw program for vaccinated people, he said.

Besides, immunized people have other benefits such as no quarantine or ban on gathering with friends, he pointed out.

Only vaccination could end the pandemic, and so it is really important to educate the public because there is still resistance to the vaccines, he said.

"Hong Kong is still trying very hard to convince people to get vaccinated."

Professor Tuan Nguyen, School of Population Health, University of New South Wales, Australia, said general practitioners and family doctors could play an important role in this by influencing their patients to increase vaccination uptake.

"Other approaches such as patient notification and recall systems and opportunistic vaccination can also help improve the vaccination uptake."

As a professor of predictive medicine, he could not think of any major risk associated with vaccination, but on the contrary there is ample evidence that vaccination reduces the severity of Covid and improves life expectancy for people affected by the disease, he said.

Of course there are adverse events, some serious (like blood clots and heart complications), associated with vaccination, he admitted.

"However, research has consistently shown that vaccine benefits outweigh risks."

Huge challenge

Tuan said Vietnam's goal of getting 70 percent of the population vaccinated is a "huge challenge."

With Vietnam falling short of vaccines amid its new wave of infection, the critical task is to acquire more vaccines, he said.

It would be ideal to have vaccines made in Vietnam, but this would take some time to realize, he said.

Vietnam is developing four domestic vaccines and only one has reached the third phase of human trials.

The government has been asking other countries to transfer technology so that vaccines could be made in Vietnam. According to Tuan, this is a practical option.

"I believe Vietnam has the infrastructure for producing vaccines, and I hope that such infrastructure can be repurposed for Covid-19 vaccine production."

He said the ongoing new wave in Vietnam and around the world is a powerful reminder that the virus is not going to disappear any time soon, and in fact, people, as a community, would live with it.

The ongoing wave, the fourth in Vietnam, is caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant first found in India, and has been the most challenging one yet in the country. A total of 12,882 cases have been recorded in two months, out of some 16,200 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Vietnam would possibly experience some more outbreaks, and it is likely that the virus is increasingly becoming endemic, meaning people have to learn how to live with it and how to protect the most vulnerable, Tuan explained.

But Vietnam needs to maintain social distancing even after vaccination, he warned.

He cited a study published in Nature Medicine in December 2020 that showed that limiting gatherings, closing educational institutions and border restriction are among the best measures for reducing the spread.

"So I think even with vaccination some forms of social distancing should be maintained for some time."

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