Member Briefing: The Omicron Variant

This has always been an unpredictable virus, going back to when it first appeared on the final day of 2019 when China alerted the WHO to 27 cases of “viral pneumonia of unknown origin” in the city of Wuhan. Life has changed for all of us since then as more than 285 million infections have been reported globally and more than 5 million people have died including over 32,000 deaths in Vietnam. Back then, no one could have known that this virus would trigger the most brutal pandemic in a century. And no one today knows when it will be over. First identified in Botswana and South Africa in November, the heavily mutated Omicron variant has surged around the world over the past month and is now in Vietnam. Join AmCham on Thursday afternoon for a briefing by Dr. Eric Dziuban, Vietnam Country Director for the US Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Dziuban will discuss the current Covid situation in Vietnam and the outlook going forward as the Omicron variant spreads.

The WHO estimated that by mid-December, Omicron likely was in most countries, whether they had detected it or not. Vietnam’s first reported case arrived into Noi Bai Airport from the UK on December 19 and additional cases have been announced by the authorities. So far, we know that Omicron spreads more effectively from person to person and more easily evades protective immunity generated by vaccines or natural immunity through previous infection. Fortunately, the vaccines are proving effective at preventing severe illness, and for most vaccinated people, Omicron appears to present itself like a bad cold. Scientists do not yet know precisely why Omicron tends to cause less severe illnesses than delta or other variants of the coronavirus, but while Omicron grows especially well in the nose and upper airways – leading to much higher viral loads and easier transmission – it may not invade the lungs as well as earlier variants. This is a new phase of the pandemic, one with sweeping disruptions but probably not the same level of fear and anxiety as earlier periods. However, even if only a small percentage of infected people need hospital care here, it will tax a health system that is already straining under pandemic fatigue and treating cases linked to the older Delta variant.

Our guest speaker, Dr. Eric Dziuban, serves as Country Director for the US Centers for Disease Control in Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam last May and manages a team of 68 people in Hanoi and HCMC. He most recently served as CDC Country Director in Namibia, advising on Covid-19 planning and emergency response. Dr, Dziuban is also a Commander in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Through his professional roles, Dr. Dziuban has contributed to a number of US Government technical guidelines in current use for disease outbreaks or public health emergencies. He is a frequent lecturer and has authored or co-authored over 40 published scientific manuscripts and has received several CDC and Commissioned Corps Officer awards for his work.

Prior to joining U.S. Government service, Dr. Dziuban lived and worked as a physician in Swaziland for Baylor College of Medicine. He continues to maintain board certification as a licensed pediatrician. He received his medical degree at Duke University and completed pediatric residency at the University of Michigan. He was also the first diplomat of the inaugural class at the National School of Tropical Medicine to receive a Diploma in Tropical Medicine.

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