Now classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly throughout the world, including in Vietnam.

Recommended precautions for most healthy individuals are careful hand washing, avoiding touching your face, disinfecting frequently-touched hard surfaces, and practicing social distancing, including avoiding large gatherings.

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COVID-19 Update from Healthcare Provider Subcommittee Chair Dr. Mason Cobb and Andrew Meadows

The year 2020 was all about controlling the devastation of the pandemic; 2021 is all about the vaccine and subsequently lifting the controls from 2020.

No country did a better job since 2020 of controlling the outbreaks than Vietnam. Over-reaction was the successful right reaction. Now, as the latest outbreak is controlled and as the vaccine gradually saturates the population, how will the controls be lifted? When will “Vaccine Passports” be accepted? When will international travel be liberalized?

More immediately, when, who, how do we get the vaccine? Although assisted privately by Vietnam Vaccine Co (VNVC), the importation, procurement, prioritization, distribution and actual jabs will be carefully controlled and organized by Ministry of Health. At the moment, it looks like about 5.6M doses of the 2 dose Astra-Zeneca (AZ) vaccine will be available by the end of April. 60-90M doses are planned for delivery by the end of 2021, but intense negotiations are ongoing to top up to 150M by year-end.

It is not entirely clear, but appears that expats will queue as with locals, but by strict priority which differs somewhat from WHO protocols. This schedule seems optimized for containing any outbreak. Those over 65 and with chronic conditions will be down the list. Priority will be given to frontline workers, including quarantine areas, case trackers, etc. Then, customs and immigration workers. Then military, public safety officials, and teachers. Then, other essential workers such as aviation and transportation. After that, those over 65 years-old and those with chronic conditions will receive their vaccine.

AZ is the main vaccine with negotiations ongoing for Pfizer and others, including Sputnik 5. Any of these vaccines is effective in preventing serious disease and has exceptionally low side-effects, so vaccine shopping is not useful. Since protecting the public from further outbreaks is paramount for the government, the Ministry of Health is recommending that even those vaccinated be required to quarantine, although possibly for a shorter time with a vaccine passport. Discussions are underway with other countries in the region as Vietnam and its neighbors contemplate what “vaccine passports” could allow.

Meanwhile, vaccination rollout is happening faster in the United States, allowing many of our families back home to see some relief.