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Vietnam remains at high risk of COVID-19 infections: health minister

Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long has warned that Vietnam remains at high risk of COVID-19 infections from abroad as the number of cases in many countries keeps rising.

Speaking with local authorities of 63 provinces and cities during an online meeting on Tuesday, Long warned of illegal immigration at borders which increases the risk of infections.

He said that on Monday alone, 5,000 people entered Vietnam via roads. Seventy-seven of them were found to have entered illegally via borders in northern localities while in the south, each area reported two to three illegal entries.

He expressed concern over the fact infection rates showed no signs of slowing down in many countries, saying that if Vietnam were in that situation, the country’s medical system would struggle to meet the treatment demand.

Every repatriation flight bringing Vietnamese from overseas records positive cases, he added but in spite of quarantine periods, Long warned there is no guarantee some of those cases may spread into the community.

He noted that the infection risk was high at quarantine camps at hotels and non-military sites, urging local authorities to take responsibility in supervising those facilities.

He added that medical facilities are also a possible source of community transmissions as almost all of them have resumed operations and the number of visitors started to increase. Meanwhile, both public and private hospitals have loosened COVID-19 prevention and control measures.

In a recently released directive, the Ministry of Health said COVID-19 prevention and control work must be tightened at the highest level in the winter season and in the time when important political events to be held.

According to the ministry, the COVID-19 situation continues to get more complicated, particularly in winter when countries have seen a rise in virus cases with social distancing measures brought back in many places, especially Europe.

Vietnam may have gone more than 80 days without community transmission, but the risk of infection always remains high due to possible exposure to the virus from imported cases.

The Minister ordered directors of local health departments to strictly take prevention and control measures.

Heads of medical facilities must ensure pandemic prevention and control measures at crowded events while screening and classifying patients, managing cross-infection at hospitals, especially at departments where critically-ill patients are being treated.

The preventive medicine agencies are requested to verify coronavirus testing certificates, especially those of foreign experts.

The Ministry of Health assigned research institutes to continue to study COVID-19 vaccines and new testing methods while promoting co-operation with countries that already have results of clinical trials.

According to the Vaccine and Biological Production Company (VABIOTECH) under the Vietnamese Ministry of Health, the company is conducting a preclinical study of COVID-19 vaccine on 12 monkeys but the tests have not shown results.

Dr Do Tuan Dat, VABIOTECH director, said: “Once the pre-clinical phase is completed, we will enter the human clinical trial phase. It is expected that until early 2021 the soonest, VABIOTECH will collect enough data to be licensed to conduct the trial of COVID-19 vaccine on humans.”

The elderly which is the group with the highest risk of infection will need reaction evaluation in the vaccine trial. But at first, the researchers will test the COVID-19 vaccine in the low-risk group aged between 18 and 59.

Vietnam currently has four COVID-19 vaccine researching and manufacturing units: Vaccine and Biological Products One Member Limited Company (VABIOTECH), Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biology (IVAC), Center Research on Production of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (POLYVAC) and NANOGEN Biopharmaceutical Company.

Before being put into use, all vaccines must go through at least five stages including evaluating and selecting vaccines to create an antigenic region that is immunogenic and safe for later use in humans; a preclinical test on animals and three stages of clinical testing on human.

Nguyen Ngo Quang, deputy head of the Science, Technology and Training Department under the Ministry of Health, said the clinical trial phase had three stages to evaluate the vaccine safety and effectiveness. Phase 1 will test 30-150 people. Phase 2 will test at least 200 people and Phase 3 will conduct the test on at least 800 people and a follow up in at least one year since the last dose is injected.

However, Vietnam faces difficulty in the third clinical trial phase due to shortage of COVID-19 patients infected in the community while the number of positive cases imported from overseas is very small, according to Quang.