It's not over yet: Covid-19 vaccines, boosters and children

November 27, 2022 | 07:38 pm PT
Angela Pratt WHO Representative in Vietnam
I know we all wish that the Covid-19 pandemic was over. And most of the time here in Vietnam, it feels like it is and that life is pretty much back to normal.

The streets are bustling with life; shops, restaurants and cafes are full of customers; and even the international tourists are returning in ever larger numbers – all of which is wonderful to see.

In the past 12 months, Vietnam has done an excellent job of transitioning to what we call sustained management of Covid-19, which is about balancing social and economic development with the public health measures needed to protect the vulnerable and ensure health services are not overwhelmed. And it is important to remember that Vietnam was able to achieve this transition so well, in large part because of the high coverage of the Covid-19 primary vaccination doses across the country.

But unfortunately, the pandemic is not completely over yet. People are still being infected, hospitalized – and dying – all over the world. People who have the virus, sometimes without knowing it, are still infecting others – including sometimes people who are most vulnerable to severe illness, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. And while the virus is circulating anywhere, all of us still face some risk: because ongoing transmission anywhere heightens the risk of dangerous new variants emerging, and with them, new surges in cases – which will make more people sick, and increase pressure on health services and hard-working health staff.

The good news is that we have never been in a better position to end the Covid-19 pandemic. And even better, there is something that we can all do, right now, to help contribute to this goal: ensure that everyone in Vietnam who is eligible to be vaccinated – and boosted – has had their vaccines.

After almost two years, billions of vaccinations and booster doses have now been administered to adults and children worldwide. And we have strong evidence that these vaccines are safe and remain one of the most important tools we have, combined with other basic hygiene measures, to protect people against severe illness and death from Covid-19.

A medical worker pulls Covid-19 vaccine from a vial in Hanoi, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

A medical worker pulls Covid-19 vaccine from a vial in Hanoi, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Vietnam did an incredible job in rolling out the primary series of Covid-19 vaccines last year: the speed and scale of the vaccine rollout, including efforts to ensure vaccines reached every corner of the country, is one of the great success stories of this country's Covid-19 response, and our region more broadly. With close to 100% coverage of the primary vaccine series, Vietnam is one of the most highly vaccinated countries anywhere in the world.

But for most people, it has now been more than 4-6 months since they finished their primary series of Covid-19 vaccines, and this means that their immunity against Covid-19 will have waned and they are less protected against getting severely ill – or worse– from the virus. Over the next few weeks and months, we need to do everything we can to ensure that everyone who is eligible and aged 12 years and older gets their booster shots. We also need to get more eligible kids (those aged 5-11 years old) fully vaccinated with the primary series.

Ensuring that everyone eligible is vaccinated and boosted is important because we don't know when a new surge of cases could come – though there are more and more signals (for example, from other countries in the region) that this could be on the very near horizon. We also don't know when a dangerous new variant of the virus could emerge: this time last year, no-one had heard of Omicron – but as we now all know, it led to a huge surge in cases all over the world. One of the best things we can do to prevent both new surges and new variants is to make sure everyone is vaccinated and boosted. And if a new surge or a new variant does come, vaccination is one of our best forms of defense.

There is also still much we don't know about the long-term effects of having had a Covid-19 infection, and vaccination is still one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of infection and to protect yourself against severe illness and death – and in doing so, minimize the risk of potential long-term effects. And this defense and protection is increased if you also still practice some very basic hygiene measures – mask up if you are in a crowded, enclosed space; wash your hands often; and stay away from others if you feel sick.

So, our message is really very simple: make sure you and everyone you know is vaccinated, and boosted.

*Dr Angela Pratt is the WHO Representative in Vietnam.

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