Heroes in White

How nurses are playing a vital role in Lao PDR’s plans to rollout COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the country.

Siliphot Sihaphom
UNICEF Laos/2021/SSiriphongphanh
28 April 2021

Heroes in real-life often do not come in flashy costumes with a cape like those portrayed in popular media. This is especially the case for the heroes, garbed in plain but brilliant white, who recently helped Lao PDR take its next important step towards ending the COVID-19 pandemic: administering COVID-19 vaccinations to the most vulnerable and at-risk groups in the country.

One of these heroes is 53 year old Ms. Somsouk Khounmany, a nurse working at the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Department at the Mittaphab Hospital. She was one of the nurses who took part in the roll out of COVAX supported COVID-19 vaccinations to the public during a mass vaccination event organised at Mittaphab Hospital from 2 to 3 April. The roll out targeted priority groups who are at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 and those who are most likely to develop severe symptoms from infection.

During the mass vaccination event, Ms. Somsouk recalled how different the attitudes of people were when they visited hospitals during the time of the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to now; how most people were extremely anxious as they do not what to expect from an unknown virus.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, a lot of people who visited the hospital where I work were very paranoid and anxious since the thought of getting infected by COVID-19 was constantly in the back of their minds. Back then, people always had to ask themselves twice if they should go outside or not, even if it was to purchase necessities,” Ms. Somsanouk explained.

 “Although as a nurse I am trained on how to properly protect myself from the virus, I admit that similar thoughts were also in the back of my mind too back then.”

UNICEF Laos/2021/AKarki
Ms. Somsanouk has worked in the MCH Department at Mittaphab Hospital in Vientiane Capital for many years and her work currently focuses on vaccines.

Since then, Lao PDR has come far and on the faces of the different people who came to the Mittaphab hospital for their vaccination, one could see hope. Ms. Somsouk herself has also been vaccinated against COVID-19 and is now working hard, alongside her fellow nurses, to support the process of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to the public to ensure that those who are most vulnerable to the virus also receive protection.

“All Lao people are like one huge family to me and so I feel very proud to be able to provide them with vaccinations against COVID-19,” she said. “Even though my work may sometimes be quite exhausting, I am still motivated to continue ensuring that all Lao people have equitable access to COVID-19.”

A nurse giving vaccine
UNICEF Laos/2021/AKarki
Ms. Somsanouk giving the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine obtained through the support of the COVAX Facility to a patient during the mass vaccination event organised in Vientiane Capital from 2 – 3 April

The vaccines used during the mass vaccination were recently shipped to Lao PDR on 20 March through the COVAX Facility, a partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and consist of 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). This shipment is the first of Lao PDR's initial allocation of 480,000 doses. COVAX aspires to provide enough vaccine supply to cover at least 20% of the population in this year.

Minister speaking
UNICEF Laos/2021/SSiriphongphanh
The mass vaccination event organised in Vientiane Capital from 2 – 3 April was notably attended by the Vice Minister of Health, H.E. Dr. Phouthone Muangpak, who co-chaired the launched ceremony for the event.

The mass vaccination event in Vientiane Capital was targeted at priority groups, which, according to the country’s National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NVDP), include frontline healthcare workers, older adults above the age of 60 and people with underlying health conditions. Some essential workers will also be prioritised based on the nature of the job and high-risk of exposure to COVID-19 and the Government of Lao PDR is currently in the process of planning the roll out of COVAX supported COVID-19 vaccines throughout other provinces of Lao PDR.

Gavi board members represented in Lao PDR include Australia, Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.