Breastfeeding mothers whose babies are above 6 months of age are able to take the Sinopharm vaccine, according to the DHA Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The UAE’s COVID-19 vaccination drive is in full swing, with more than six million doses administered to date, according to the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Agency’s latest figures.

But there are certain people who have been advised not to take the vaccine. These include children below the age of 16 years, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women.

However, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has told Gulf News that breastfeeding women whose babies are aged above six months are able to take the Sinopharm vaccine, which is one of several vaccines currently available to people in Dubai and the UAE:

“The DHA includes or excludes certain categories such as breastfeeding women, depending on the type of vaccine and its approved guideline,” the DHA wrote in an exclusive statement for Gulf News.

“Mothers, who are breastfeeding babies above six months of age, can take the Sinopharm vaccine according to its guideline, while other types of vaccines exclude all breastfeeding women in their guidelines.”

DHA Twitter
DHA shared the vaccines currently available on its Twitter feed Image Credit: @DHA_Dubai/ Twitter

The other types of vaccine currently available in Dubai include the Pfizer-BioNTech (an mRNA type vaccine) and the Oxford AstraZeneca (a Viral Vector Type), according to the DHA.

The Sinopharm vaccine is made from an inactivated virus - a well-established type of vaccine that is similar to the influenza virus vaccine in its effect and the way it amounts an immune response.

Why are some people excluded from the COVID vaccine?

The DHA also clarified the reasoning behind the groups of people who are currently not advised to take the vaccine: “Pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children are currently excluded from some types of vaccines, due to insufficient data to determine any risks to these categories posed by the vaccine. Only limited data are available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, including mRNA vaccines, administered during pregnancy.

“Should a sufficient amount of research show that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children, the concerned authorities will study the inclusion of these categories.”

Who can currently take the COVID-19 vaccine in the UAE?

The vaccination drive in the UAE is currently prioritising those groups of people who are at higher risk of complications from potential COVID-19 infection. These include the elderly, those with chronic conditions or disabilities, and those who work in vital sectors or on the frontlines.

However, on March 1 Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, Chair of Testing Stream at the COVID-19 Command and Control Centre in Dubai, told Gulf News that she expects the vaccination drive to open up to the rest of the population very soon: “I think by the end of the first quarter this year, we should be able to open it up for all the eligible population in Dubai”.


Should mothers stop breastfeeding in order to be able to receive the vaccine?

The DHA has now confirmed that the Sinopharm vaccine may be taken by those mothers who are breastfeeding a baby aged 6 months and above.

However, what if you want to get the vaccine before your baby is 6 months old, or if you want to get a vaccine other than the Sinopharm vaccine – should you stop breastfeeding in order to do this?

“As always, breastfeeding your baby is a choice, but it’s extremely important to always reiterate that it is the best form of nutrition and protection that we can give babies,” says Dr Rania Ayat Hawayek, paediatrician, medical director and owner at Circle Care Clinic in Dubai.

“Stopping breastfeeding in order to the get the vaccine is therefore not necessarily in your baby’s best interest. However, each case is different, and in situations where the mother is high-risk for developing complications from COVID-19, due to underlying chronic illness, or if she has a high-risk job where exposure to COVID-19 is more likely, that needs to be taken into consideration.

"My advice is to discuss this case with your paediatrician to get more guidance before making any decisions. Also, make sure that all those around you who are eligible for the vaccine, get it, while you wait for your child to reach six months of age, and then you can receive the vaccine yourself.”

BC Breast cancer while breastfeeding
The World Health Organisation advises that babies are exclusively fed milk – ideally breastmilk, or formula milk if breastmilk is not possible – for the first 6 months of life. After this time, the milk may be supplemented with solid food, which should be introduced gradually.

The World Health Organisation also recommends that mothers continue to breastfeed until the child is two years old and beyond.