Illustration by Trịnh Lập
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
The BBC reported on August 25 that a man from Hong Kong who had already recovered from a bout of COVID-19 four months ago had become infected a second time, in what researchers say is the first documented case of human re-infection.
The man in question caught the coronavirus earlier this year, was treated in a Hong Kong hospital, and then discharged in April. But he tested positive again after returning from Spain via the UK on August 15.
University of Hong Kong researchers said this second infection was a different strain of the coronavirus, and the man did not exhibit any symptoms whatsoever.
The case may well lead your average person, like me, to ask what help vaccines may be in taking on a disease that can re-infect within just a few months.
One of the researchers did say, however, that: “The finding does not mean that taking vaccines will be useless, as immunity induced by vaccination could be different from that induced by natural infection. [We] will need to wait for the results of vaccine trials to see how effective they are.”
People around Việt Nam, and I’m sure in many other countries, have been closely following recent news about a Russian vaccine.
On August 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had become the first in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine for widespread use, saying that even one of his daughters had been vaccinated.
Scientists in the West were sceptical, and some leading scientists in Russia quit in protest at the announcement. The global race to produce an effective vaccine for widespread use has become an extremely competitive race, with Russian claims of being “first” followed by Chinese claims it had earlier produced its own vaccine. And Việt Nam is also saying it’s getting closer to its goal of producing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Discussions on the issue can become heated, even fierce, on social media. As usual, “keyboard warriors” quickly reached a conclusion and began criticising opposing views. Those with a medical background, though, began to raise questions about how the Russian vaccine was made and what the testing phases were, as well as about the low antibody levels in vaccinated patients.
The National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Việt Nam, meanwhile, has appealed to recovered COVID-19 patients to donate their plasma to help others.
Dr Vũ Thị Thu Hương, head of the Department of Health Examination at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, told one local newspaper that using plasma is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 patients, especially those in a critical condition. The plasma of recovered patients must contain sufficient antibodies to fight the virus, however.
The Ministry of Health has approved a proposal on clinical research assessing the safety and initial effectiveness of treating COVID-19 patients in average, serious, and critical condition with plasma.
Plasma treatment was used in 2003 to fight the SARS epidemic, while it earlier pushed back Ebola and was used in the fight against other 20th-century epidemics like influenza, measles and mumps.
It has been a little more than a month since the second wave of coronavirus hit Việt Nam, in Đà Nẵng, Quảng Nam, Hải Dương, and 15 other cities and provinces. The total number of infections is now more than a thousand.
The country has also experienced cooler and wetter weather after months of summer heat. Schools are scheduled to re-open, while factories that can’t be shut down aren’t and fields simply must be ploughed and seeded.
But what needs to change?
In “COVID-19: Don’t Delude Yourself”, Nguyễn Thức Tuấn from “the medical community to fight the new coronavirus” group argues that Việt Nam needed to develop a national level of sufferance regarding resources and our ability to bring things under control and get our country ready.
“We can’t just sit here and wait until we’re overwhelmed.”
His advice is to not put too much hope in a vaccine. No effective vaccines were found to fight the viruses causing SARS-CoV, discovered in 2002, and MERS-CoV, in 2012, and there is still no vaccine for HIV.
Above all, he warns, don’t place your trust in politicians making groundless statements not backed by scientific evidence.
Read more and inform yourself, he suggests. And stay informed. Scientists have found that these new coronaviruses are able to evolve into stronger, more adaptable, and more destructive versions. Information changes, so keep abreast.
Public spaces are now marked with distancing signs, while on the home front there needs to be more sanitiser used more frequently.
The houses and apartments of the not-too-distant future may well be designed like sterile farms or fruit processing facilities, so when you enter you must pass through a washroom where you wash your hands and change your clothes, putting them in the washing machine immediately.
But before such utopian designs actually come to be, dear reader, just do what you did a few months ago. Doctors advise washing your hands and face with mild soap and rinsing out your respiratory tract with lukewarm, salty water in the morning and before bedtime. Always keep your throat, head, hands, and feet warm. Try not to catch a cold, especially as the seasons are changing.
The Prime Minister has issued a decree stating that hospital directors are responsible if the coronavirus gets in and infects staff. Unsurprisingly, the screening process at all hospitals in Hà Nội is now incredibly strict. If you need to visit a hospital but have been to a city or province where COVID-19 patients have been found, you must complete a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine and present a negative RT-PCR test result.
For now, we need to move on. The first phase is behind us. We were successful.
It would be nice to hear more about preventive methods in daily COVID-19 announcements, and not just “No more new community cases as of this morning!” - VNS