Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Help Boost COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout in Champasak Province

USG funded COVID-19 vaccine boost COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Lao PDR

Vientiane Times
A woman getting COVID vaccine
UNICEF Laos/2021
29 July 2021

The Center of Communication and Education for Health (CCEH), with support from UNICEF, has organized a visit with a team of journalists to Champasak province to observe the ongoing rollout of COVAX-supported COVID-19 vaccines from 27 – 28 July 2021.

The visit comes shortly after the arrival of 1,008,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine, donated by the United States Government via the COVAX facility earlier this month, which has provided a significant boost to Lao PDR’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

During this visit, journalists from national media had the opportunity to meet with H.E. Dr. Vilayvong Bouddakham, the Provincial Governor of Champasak, at the Provincial Governor’s Office. The Governor informed the media that Champasak province has high responsibility in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. The challenges are to prevent community transmission, manage Lao workers returning back to Champasak from neighbouring countries and increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccination in the province.

H.E. Dr Vilayvong Bouddakham, Champasak Provincial Governor, gave an interview to the media about the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination rollout in his province

“Champasak Provincial authority strictly enforces the 15/PM Order and the 829/PMO Notice that is effective from 20 July to 3 August and other government measures,” said H.E. Dr. Vilayvong Bouddakham.

According to H.E. Dr. Vilayvong Bouddakham, in Champasak province, authorities are focusing on six key measures: strict border surveillance; control the flow of Lao workers returning home from neighboring countries and encourage them to do so through official checkpoints; improve quarantine camps and increase the number of field hospitals; test returning workers for COVID-19 and if results are positive, send them for the treatment in field hospitals; providing information on the danger of COVID-19, its impact and how to protect people from the pandemic; explain and educate people about the law and legal actions related to the prevention of COVID-19; and economic management and regulation of  prices of essential goods,” stated H.E. Dr. Vilayvong Bouddakham.

“Vaccination is crucial to control and prevent the spread of the pandemic. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the government and partner countries, including those who have donated vaccines directly to the Government of Lao PDR and also through COVAX Facility. I would also like to thank UNICEF, WHO and other development partners for their support towards the COVID-19 response in Champasak province,” noted H.E. Dr. Vilayvong Bouddakham.

Dr. Viengsy Souphakdy, Director of Champasak Provincial Health Department and Secretariat of Provincial Taskforce of COVID-19 Control and Prevention, also gave an interview to the media team. He told the media about the situation around vaccination in Champasak. As of 27 July 2021, there are 1,498 active cases, including 137 cases of community transmission and 1,361 imported cases, while 652 cases have recovered and 846 cases are still under treatment. No deaths have been reported in Champasak province so far.

There are more than 45,000 Lao workers in Thailand and about 37,000 workers have returned back to Champasak province. It is expected that about 8,000 workers will continue to come back home and the workers returning home are currently in the quarantine camps. The urgent tasks right now are to improve the quarantine camps to accommodate more incoming returnees and train more medical staff, procure more equipment and budget to support the quarantine camps and COVID-19 prevention activities,” said  Dr. Viengsy Souphakdy.

There is still a high risk of Community transmission and improving vaccination rates will greatly help controlling the spread of COVID-19.

“Champasak province recently received 123,100 doses of the J&J/Janssen vaccine. We have now started the rolling out vaccinations in ten districts of Champassak province. Afterwards, it is expected that 26 per cent of the population in Champasak will be fully vaccinated. However, more vaccines will be needed to provide protection for all the population, particularly in remote rural communities,” Said Dr. Viengsy Souphakdy.

Dr. Souphaphanh Soukchaleun, Deputy Director of Pakse Health Office, also gave an interview to the media during this visit.

Dr. Souphaphanh Soukchaleun, Deputy Director of Pakse Health Office, is also working very hard with the local medical team to provide vaccination at the Pakse City Hospital. She said that Pakse received 19,250 doses of the J&J/Janssen vaccine the vaccination rollout for Pakse began in 27 July 2021. She said priority groups, including people above 60 years of age, people with underlying health conditions, and health workers in Champasak are very excited to be receiving the vaccine. After vaccination, it is expected to reach 72 per cent of population of Pakse City and the risk of community transmission would subsequently decrease.

 A 76 years old woman from Phonsaat Village of Pakse City came very early to the vaccination point, saying that she is very happy to have opportunity to get vaccinated.

"It is very convenient that the J&J/Janssen vaccine requires only one dose,” she said.

A woman getting COVID vaccine
A 76 years old woman from Phonsaat Village of Pakse City receiving the J&J/Janssen vaccine

Before getting her vaccination, she was slightly worried as she is old and is not in good health. The vaccination team checked her temperature and pulse and asked her if she has any underlying health conditions.

“I told them all about my health condition and they said no need to worry because everything will be fine. After getting vaccinated, I did not feel any symptoms at all and was able to go home after 15 minutes,” she added.

In addition to Champassak, the media team will work in Savannakhet from 29-30 July 2021. The team will later be making a visit to the Northern provinces of Luang Namtha and Bokeo in early August, similarly to observe and interview health workers and essential personnel about the ongoing work there in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as to interview locals to get their opinion on the vaccination rollout.

A healthworker
A health staff in Pakse City working tirelessly to vaccinate people at one of the vaccination centers.

Lao PDR is expected to receive more donations of vaccines through COVAX. COVAX is a partnership co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization (WHO), with UNICEF as key delivery partner. COVAX works in partnership with the World Bank, civil society organizations, manufacturers, and others partners.

This story was originally published on Vientiane Times on 30 July 2021.