- Health

Vaccinating a Country against COVID-19

April 2 marks the one year anniversary of the launch of the Vaccinate Laos campaign – 365 days since the very first COVID-19 vaccination was administered to the Lao public.

Now as of March 28 2022, a total of 11,255,237 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered throughout all 18 provinces of the country (includes first, second dose and booster doses), meaning approximately 30,836 people are receiving their COVID-19 vaccination every single day through the support from the COVAX Facility.

Getting to where we now with COVID-19 vaccination has been a monumental undertaking and things in the beginning were quite different.

When the COVID-19 outbreak happened, all of our lives were virtually turned upside down. Facing a seemingly unknown threat, it appeared that we were ill-equipped to handle the virus during its initial phase. However, in less than a year, scientists were able to produce a vaccine against this previously unknown virus, offering us a critical tool against the pandemic but more importantly, a sense of hope.

For the Lao PDR, this sense of hope arrived on 20 March, 2021 with the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility – a partnership co-led by Gavi, CEPI and WHO, with UNICEF as a key delivery partner.

It consisted of 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and its arrival represented a watershed moment in the Lao PDR’s COVID-19 response, highlighting how the world is in this crisis together – no one is safe until everyone is safe.

With the arrival of these vaccines, the Ministry of Health (MOH), WHO and UNICEF together launched the Vaccinate Laos campaign to encourage the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and achieve the ambitious goal of 70 per cent vaccination coverage for the Lao population by 2021. The campaign was publicly well-received and the first vaccine doses were administered in a mass vaccination session at the Mittaphab Hospital in Vientiane on April 2, 2021.

However, with the limited supply of vaccines available then, its use had to be carefully targeted. The Government developed the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan to help identify priority groups for vaccination based on their risk of exposure and likelihood of developing severe illness. These groups include frontline health workers, people who are 60 or above, those with underlying health conditions and workers at the country’s various points of entry, in quarantine centres and diplomatic staff. This first batch was administered to around 4,000 individuals belonging to these priority groups.

With this shipment of vaccines from COVAX, more vaccine supplies were soon delivered to Lao PDR throughout 2021 and early 2022, either directly from or through COVAX, or as direct bilateral support from partners, including Australia, Cambodia, China, the European Union, Finland, France, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the United States. Countries like Canada, Germany, Korea, Luxembourg, and Switzerland have also been key supporters of COVAX and its delivery of vaccines to countries like the Lao PDR.

The vaccines donated were also of varying types with different storage and dose requirements, meaning each one of them required different strategies for deployment. For example, with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine donated by the US through COVAX in July 2021, MOH was able to rapidly expand vaccination to more remote areas in other provinces, such as Champassak and Savannakhet, due to the J&J vaccine’s single dose requirement.

The year 2021 closed off with another milestone for the Vaccinate Laos campaign: in collaboration with popular Lao Singer Aluna Thavonsouk, MOH and UNICEF launched a song promoting COVID-19 vaccination on World Children’s Day 2021. The eponymously titled song “Vaccinate Laos” was an instant hit, being played almost every day during the daily briefing by MOH on the COVID-19 situation in Laos, reminding us that everyone can play a role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Now with 2022 well under way, the Government has made an even more ambitious target of vaccinating 87.25 per cent of the Lao population and has rolled out third COVID-19 booster shots, in addition to authorizing vaccination for children to ensure the safe reopening of schools.

Looking back, we have come far from where we started with the pandemic. Nevertheless, there is still more work to be done. COVID-19 is still very much with us and now with the looming threat of Omicron, vaccination remains as important than ever.

Each and every one of us still has a role to play in vaccinating Laos. Every one of us can be heroes.

Source: Lao News Agency