COVID-19 vaccine production an urgent national task: professor

July 07, 2021 - 08:00

Scientist and professor Nguyễn Thanh Liêm speaks to Thế giới&Việt Nam (The world and Việt Nam) newspaper about domestic COVID-19 vaccine production

Professor Nguyễn Thanh Liêm. — Photo

Scientist and professor Nguyễn Thanh Liêm speaks to Thế giới&Việt Nam (The world and Việt Nam) newspaper about domestic COVID-19 vaccine production

Việt Nam is currently facing a new wave of infections of COVID-19, are there any lessons to be learned to effectively deal with the pandemic?

Up to this point, our country's fight against COVID-19 has been successful due to the application of a correct strategy. This strategy is suitable for the conditions of a developing country that still has many difficulties, a lack of modern medical equipment and a limited number of hospital beds.

From the very beginning, the Government defined "fighting the pandemic as fighting the enemy", so the entire political system and the whole country's strength quickly joined the fight. The Government has gained the trust of the people due to its transparent and open policy.

People have high awareness and strictly follow the pandemic prevention guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health. But, this is a long battle. The anti-pandemic spirit must always be maintained at the highest level at all times and in all places. Whenever it slacks, wherever it is neglected, there will be new outbreaks.

We have had a resolute and strong policy, but also flexibly adjusted depending on the evolution of the pandemic. Initially, we implemented strict lockdowns and quarantine rules, but later switched to quarantine and lockdown on a narrow scale to ensure the dual goal of fighting the pandemic and developing the economy.

Later, when more aware of the pandemic, factory workers - an important force to maintain production and economic growth, but as a population that easily spreads the disease, were prioritised for vaccination. This was a quick and appropriate decision.

How can we live with the pandemic safely and what roadmap do we need?

If you want to "live with the flood", you need to understand the "flood" well and prepare well. We can only live with COVID-19 when herd immunity is achieved. Herd immunity can be obtained from three sources: patients infected with COVID-19 who have recovered, those who carry the virus but have no symptoms, and those who are vaccinated.

According to epidemiologists, to achieve herd immunity, this total must be about 70 per cent of the population. We need to conduct relatively extensive antibody testing to see what proportion of people who have carried the virus have no symptoms or have recovered, and speed up vaccination.

Due to the scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines, it is necessary to accelerate the production of vaccines in the country. The vaccine produced in the country has initially given positive results. Vaccine production must be considered an urgent task for the whole country, not just any particular unit.

It is necessary to call for many universities and research institutes to support vaccine production companies.

I'm glad that Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính has directed the establishment of a working group to direct the production of vaccines to speed up the testing and production progress. While waiting for a vaccine, it is still necessary to persevere in implementing preventive measures, quarantine and flexible social distancing to reduce the spread rate, flatten the pandemic peak, and help the treatment system be able to respond.

To live safely with the pandemic, what needs to be done?

The biggest difficulty when living with COVID-19 is the response capacity of the treatment health system. Living with COVID-19 means accepting that the number of cases and the number of serious cases will increase.

The public hospital system is usually overloaded. The number of ventilators, especially high-functioning ventilators, is limited. There are not many respiratory resuscitation specialists at provincial and district levels. If the number of cases increases, the number of severe cases that require mechanical ventilation will put a lot of pressure on the hospital system. This tragedy has happened in many countries.

We need to summarise and analyse all patients who have been treated, especially those who have died recently to draw useful lessons. Communication should also be changed and death should not be attributed to an underlying disease, but death should be determined to be caused by COVID-19 in patients with an underlying disease. In fact, there have also been deaths without underlying disease.

In some cases, the classic treatment methods have not worked, especially in patients with underlying diseases.

It is necessary to study and apply other treatment methods according to the experience of some countries.

This pandemic can only be considered as an end when vaccines and specific treatments are widely available. But some think the disease may never disappear, forcing people to adapt and live with it. What do you think?

The COVID-19 pandemic is very strange and irregular. Normally, pandemics like SARS, Ebola, H5N1 only circulate for a while and then disappear on their own, the virus rarely changes continuously.

This pandemic has persisted, despite weather conditions and is constantly changing, so it is very unpredictable. The virus can disappear on its own, but it could also persist forever, so it is necessary to be ready to live with COVID-19.

However, despite the changes, the vaccine is still effective. People who have been vaccinated have milder disease and a low chance of death due to cross-immunity. The point is to make vaccines that are safer, more effective, and available for annual booster shots.

In addition to vaccines, special COVID-19 treatment drugs are also being researched. Hopefully these drugs will appear soon.

What are the lessons from the pandemic?

The most important thing is to recognise the severity of the disease early. Việt Nam was successful in phase one because we identified it early and set a high warning level early.

Israel may also soon know that vaccines are the only weapons that can control the disease, so they actively ordered vaccines very early to vaccinate the entire population. So COVID-19 is no longer a big deal for them. — VNS