No need for Covid mandates for fear of vaccine expiration

June 27, 2022 | 07:49 pm PT
Tran Van Phuc Doctor
It is okay if vaccines expire, it is okay to get rid of them. With Covid-19 in decline, vaccination mandates are no longer needed.

Indonesia became a Covid-19 epicenter last year, even surpassing hotspots like Brazil and India. Its healthcare system was on the verge of crumbling when vaccines came to the rescue.

Some Vietnamese workers in Indonesia told me they had no other option but to self-isolate because they could not find a single dose of vaccine. But the situation is different now. There is still an issue with Covid vaccines, but it is no longer about people not getting them; it is about the fact they are going to expire soon.

At the end of May Indonesia began to dispose of millions of vaccines after giving 96 percent of its population at least one shot. Around 80 percent received a second and 22 percent also got a third.

Other countries are doing the same. To address the problem of vaccine oversupply and the risk of expiration, the U.S. has included 500 million doses in its national vaccination program this year, twice the number originally planned.

Some 620,000 doses had to be disposed of by Switzerland as it could not give them away to other countries. Denmark got rid of 1.1 million doses, while the U.K. threw away 4.7 million doses.

The U.N. said developing nations refused to receive 100 million doses it tried to donate.

There were times when vaccination had to be made mandatory. Some governments imposed travel restrictions on the unvaccinated or simply fining them.

Vaccination mandates are usually made in the case of severe outbreaks of highly contagious diseases, a moral imperative in the interest of public health. They are especially relevant when rising incidence could eventually overwhelm the healthcare system, leading to even more deaths.

Those who choose not to be vaccinated not only endanger their own lives, but also that of the community and medical workers.

At the height of the pandemic, some governments resorted to lockdowns. There are naturally hefty costs that come with such a decision, and mandatory vaccination was a cheaper but effective alternative.

But now that the coronavirus has been put under control, a vaccine mandate has become obsolete.

Covid-19 is gradually becoming something like a cousin to the flu.

No country has any requirement for percentages of their population to be vaccinated against the flu. Of course, there are some who are vulnerable to it and are encouraged to get shots. Many willingly do so.

As of June 23 Vietnam had given over 228.4 million Covid vaccines to its population, with virtually everyone aged 12 and above getting at least two shots. Around 64 percent of adults have got a third shot and 6 percent have received a fourth.

Vietnam has now seemingly achieved herd immunity. People are still getting infected, but the numbers have dramatically reduced from what they used to be. Vaccination is also slowing down in several regions.

As the expiration dates of vaccines loom, the Ministry of Health has called on 20 southern localities to use them up before June ends. Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Phuoc have begun to tell people to "take responsibility" if their decision not to get vaccinated results in an outbreak.

Sure, Covid vaccination is important, both in the past and now. But should it be mandated for every member of the population? Why can’t we categorize people into priority groups and encourage them to get voluntarily vaccinated?

Studies have shown that the elderly are much more vulnerable to Covid. For example, the death rates among people aged above 80 is nearly 8 percent, while it's only 0.0016 percent for children aged below 10. That means old people should be among those prioritized for vaccination.

Other vulnerable groups include people with underlying conditions and those who work in areas that require frequent contact, like health workers and cashiers.

To persuade them to get vaccinated would require time and education and trust. I believe that should be the way to go.

We need to accept the fact that vaccines are going to expire. It is okay, the same is happening in many other countries.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters at all stages of a pandemic is public health.

It is okay if the vaccines expire, it is okay if we need to dispose them of.

*Tran Van Phuc is a doctor at St. Paul Hospital in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

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