Q. Le works around the clock at the Quang Nam Central General Hospital, like the hundreds of thousands of medical workers across Vietnam who have been leading the country’s fight against COVID-19 since it broke out in December 2019.
Spending most of her time inside the hospital treating patients who have contracted the virus, doing tests all while attending to hundreds of non-COVID-19 patients, Q. Le has seen first hand how the current pandemic affected people’s lives. She is more than willing to stay at the hospital 24/7 if her service is needed, but she knows that the risk of getting exposed to coronavirus is no joke.
“As doctors who stay in the hospitals for almost 24 hours, we are definitely at high risk of getting infected. This pandemic has shown us that it is both our right and responsibility to keep everyone safe, and that includes ourselves,” says the 27-year-old doctor.
It’s been more than a year since Q. Le was able to let out a sigh of relief. Everyday scenes in the hospital, especially during the second outbreak that affected the central region in late July, have been overwhelming, she says. She has only been in service for a little more than two years.
Vietnam started its COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday, and Q. Le is seeing a glimmer of hope. Using AstraZeneca vaccines, the country inoculated the first 250 medical workers in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Duong.
The Ministry of Health chose workers at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in HCM City and the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi and Hai Duong to get the first jabs since they are tasked with treating severe COVID-19 cases, while Hải Dương is the epicentre of the country’s third wave of infections with over 700 recorded as of March 8.
Q. Le doesn’t know when she’s getting her jab, but it’s a “good sign” that the country will soon fully eradicate the coronavirus within its borders. While she says she’s willing and ready, “it’s a lie if I say I’m not afraid”.
“Given all my understanding of the procedure of making a vaccine, there’s not enough time to test this vaccine on both animals and of course, humans. We also do not know what the effects are,” she says. But she fully trusts the Vietnamese government. “They’ve done an exceptional job in controlling the pandemic. I am sure they are only approving vaccines that they believe are safe to use.”
Ensuring safety of vaccines
At the historic inoculation yesterday, the Ministry of Health mobilized all resources to ensure that everyone who has been inoculated was safe and well monitored.
Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said that the inoculation was a little delayed as Vietnam had to carry out thorough checks, obtain accreditation certificate from the producer, and reassess the safety index of the British-Swedish vaccines delivered on February 24 from South Korea.
The first person to get the vaccine at the HCM City Hospital for Tropical Diseases was Dr. Dư Lê Thanh Xuân. “Feeling healthy” after getting the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Dr Thanh Xuân said she hopes everybody in Vietnam gets the vaccine.
Dozens more from the center were vaccinated yesterday, along with the workers from the 100 staff members of the Central for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi and at least 80 medical workers from two medical centers in Hai Duong.
MoH has allocated the first batch of 117, 600 doses of vaccine to 13 localities affected by the latest wave of outbreaks, to the Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Public Security and 21 hospitals for the first phase.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City’s Centers for Disease Control will be given 8,000 doses each, while Hai Duong CDS will receive 31,000 doses.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Defence and the Ministry of Public Security will each receive 30,000 doses.
People getting the shots have to be monitored through a digital health record. According to the ministry, usual side effects of the vaccine include headache, fever, fatigue and chill. They will receive their second shot after 12 weeks.
According to AstraZeneca, a single shot of its vaccine has an efficacy of 67%, and two increases it to 81% or more. The shots are likely to protect people for around six months depending on their physiology.
"We are grateful to the Vietnamese Government and Ministry of Health for their guidance and support throughout this process so that priority groups can be protected as soon as possible. We will continue to work closely with the Government and our partners on this holistic journey to both put an end to the pandemic and accelerate Việt Nam’s economic recovery," said Nitin Kapoor, chairman and general director at AstraZeneca Vietnam.
Vietnam is expecting the shipment of 1.3 million more doses within March as part of the WHO-led COVAX initiative. COVAX and AstraZeneca have agreed to provide a total of 30 million doses for the country this year. Negotiation with Pfizer for an additional 30 million is also underway. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s homegrown vaccines have begun second phase trials.