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Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s decision to authorise the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine that is currently in Phase III trials in the country will reassure frontline workers and strengthen them in the ongoing fight against coronavirus.

Speaking to Gulf News, the heads of top medical service providers said the provision of the Chinese-developed inactivated vaccine will reassure medical professionals working directly with COVID-19 patients.

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Michael B. Davis

“Access to the vaccine will provide peace of mind to thousands of frontline workers who have, and who continue to, risk their own health in an effort to protect the lives of their patients and our UAE community,” Michael B. Davis, chief executive officer at NMC Healthcare, told Gulf News.

‘Added layer of safety’

“Even with the vaccine, all health-care workers must remain diligent in their use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand hygiene. [But] the vaccine will provide an added layer of comfort and safety, and if used as a tool in conjunction with PPE, should allow for strong protection from the virus and subsequently UAE’s fight against the pandemic,” he added.

Dr Lalu Chacko, medical director at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi, said the vaccine would boost the confidence of frontline medical workers.

Dr Lalu Chacko

“The world is eagerly waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine and this announcement is very significant for the frontline health-care workers in the UAE. This is another milestone for them. It is a clear indication of the commitment of the government to ensure that the healthcare staff is taken care of,” he said.

“Frontline workers are likely to get an infection even though they are adopting all protective measures. We have seen this across the world. One of the reasons is their proximity to the patients. As this is a very promising vaccine according to the extensive analysis [thus far], it is expected to protect healthcare workers from infection so that they can continue their work actively,” Dr Chacko added.

In addition, vaccine administration should assist with staffing challenges for frontline workers.

“The overall unprecedented staffing challenge of having to put the frontline COVID-19 warriors on to quarantine [when exposure is suspected], and replacing them with the fresh batch, also gets addressed while the safety of their colleagues and family members comes as an added benefit,” Davis said.

No serious side effects

The vaccine has been granted regulatory approval in the UAE and developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm China National Biotec Group. Even prior to the start of the Phase III trials in the UAE in July, Sinopharm had reported that the inactivated vaccine had successfully generated antibodies against COVID-19 in all people who had been given two doses about three weeks apart. The developer also said no major side effects had been recorded.

Dr Nawal Al Kaabi, chairperson of the national COVID-19 clinical management committee, said the vaccine had continued to show positive results during its Phase III trials in the UAE. “The results of the clinical trials are moving on the right path, with all tests being successful so far. The side effects that have been reported [till date] are simple and expected, nothing serious,” she said on Monday.

Vaccine access

The vaccine has reportedly been administered to 1,000 people with chronic conditions, and no complications have been noted.

Following Monday’s announcement, it is expected that health workers will receive the Sinopharm vaccine, as could other approved frontline workers, including police personnel, security providers, humanitarian workers and volunteers.

Huge UAE response

The vaccine’s clinical trials in the UAE are being led by G42 Healthcare, a subsidiary of technology company Group 42, and overseen by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and the Abu Dhabi Department of Health, the emirate’s health-care regulator.

Within six weeks, the vaccine trials registered 31,000 volunteers from 125 nationalities in the UAE, even though the initial target number of volunteers had been announced as 15,000 people.

Medical trial volunteers

Burjeel’s parent company, VPS Healthcare, saw 109 health workers, including senior doctors and nurses, voluntarily participating in the clinical trials as soon as they were launched. Dr Chacko said more staff members had joined the trials later.

“With close to 1,000 doctors and more than 2,500 nurses in the UAE alone, VPS was a forerunner in encouraging its staff to participate in the much-awaited vaccine trials for COVID-19,” he said.

Plasma donation

Meanwhile, staff at NMC, one of the UAE’s biggest health-care providers, have donated plasma upon recovering from COVID-19.

“I wouldn’t know the exact count insofar as the vaccine trial programme is concerned. [But] the unprecedented times of fighting the pandemic call for unprecedented actions and maintaining a scientific orientation brought about by the practice of evidence-based medicine shall see us through this successfully,” Davis said.

Another UAE milestone

Dr Tarek Dufan

“The approval of the UAE government to use the COVID-19 vaccine for frontline workers is yet another successful milestone that the UAE has achieved in its battle against the pandemic. This approval to use the vaccine for frontline workers will go a long way in supporting the fight against COVID 19. It will help stop the contagion and restore normality to the life of the people. Once UAE leads the way and demonstrates the impact of the vaccine, the world will follow in its steps,” said Dr Tarek Dufan, medical director at American Hospital, Dubai.

Herd immunity

Other medical heads expect the vaccine to promote herd immunity, and quicken a return to normal life.

“With this vaccine, our [UAE] society will eventually be able to develop herd immunity, which is the ultimate win in this battle against COVID-19. Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of the community (herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of diseases from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected. I welcome this move from the government,” said Dr Atul Aundhekar, chief executive officer at Avivo Health Care Group.

Dr Atul Aundhekar

Trial analysis

Following the overwhelming response, registrations were closed at the end of August and analyses of volunteer results are currently on.

At the same time, G42 Healthcare, the health wing of Group 42, has extended the trials for the Sinopharm vaccine to Bahrain and Jordan.

Regulatory vaccine approvals

Across the world, other COVID-19 vaccine candidates have also received regulatory or emergency approval for use within at-risk groups.

In August, Sinopharm received emergency use approval in China for one of its two vaccines under development, as did Sinovac Biotech, another Chinese vaccine developer. Similarly, Russia has granted approval to its vaccine candidate after two months of testing.

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These vaccine candidates have reportedly shown efficacy in the first two phases of vaccine trials, which test the substance on a large group of people, typically more than 1,000.

— With inputs from Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Senior Reporter