UAE RAMPING UP COVID-19 VACCINATION: The UAE
RAMPING UP COVID-19 VACCINATION: The UAE’s efforts are focused on vaccinating frontline workers, people of determination, and the high-risk group of people, which includes the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases. It’s only a matter of time when the rest of the population will be covered by the vaccination programme. Image Credit: Gulf News File

Highlights

  • The national UAE vaccination rate has gone up to 10.99/100 people on Sunday (January 10, 2021) with 66,219 more doses given across the country
  • There are at least 172 vaccination centres listed in the UAE
  • Two vaccines — one by Sinopharm and the other by Pfizer-BioNTech — are provided free to UAE citizens and residents

Dubai/Abu Dhabi: Vaccines have given us hope of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Most countries have rolled out inoculation programmes in a bid to achieve herd immunity. More than a million doses had been given in the UAE, according to the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention. The move has certainly picked up pace.

On Saturday (January 9, 2021), the country hit the 1-million mark for vaccines administered, when 78,793 more shots were given, which brought the number of doses to 1,020,349. Today, Sunday (January 10, 2021), 66,219 more doses were given, with the total vaccine doses in the country to 1,086,568. This pushed the national rate further up to 10.99/100 people [from 10.32/100 people on Saturday].

The UAE’s efforts are focused on vaccinating frontline workers, people of determination, and the high-risk group of people, which includes the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases. It’s only a matter of time when the rest of the population will be covered by the vaccination programme. 

The UAE has set a target of vaccinating more than 50% of the country's population against COVID-19.

172

Number of listed vaccination centres across the UAE as of January 10, 2020

What does this mean?

It means vaccinations in the UAE are being done in earnest. Reaching the goal of more than 50% will be another important milestone. At the very least, it would mean one in every two persons would have had vaccine-induced immunity from SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind this pandemic which has upended our lives. It means a serious commitment from the country's leadship to reach "herd immunity" (or "population immunity") through vaccination.

How is the COVID-19 vaccination drive being done in the UAE?

The UAE has gone all out with the mass vaccination campaign. There are 96 locations across Abu Dhabi and at least seven vaccination centres in Dubai. There are 26 vaccination centres in Sharjah, seven in Ajman, four in Umm Al Quwain, 16 in Fujairah and 16 in Ras Al Khaimah, according to the Dubai Health Authority and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention website. That means there are a total of 172 vaccination centres across the country.

COVID VACCINATIONS AS OF JANUARY 10, 2021
Image Credit: Image Credit: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

How does vaccination help fight the virus?

There's one key benefit of a vaccine: It helps you fight diseases caused by deadly pathogens, like the SARS-CoV-2. Vaccinated people will already have antibodies in their body waiting to fight the coronavirus. If you are not vaccinated, the immune system will produce the antibodies only after the infection. So, there’s a time lag. The delay can be prevented by vaccination.

BOOK YOUR VACCINE APPOINTMENT
UAE residents can register and book appointments for vaccination through the DHA app or the DHA’s toll-free number 800 342.

Did anyone die after taking a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine?

No. On the other hand, nearly 2 million people already died as a result of COVID-19 infection. The world has numerous SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus shots approved, following rigorous human trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers. None of those army of volunteers died, either. The human trials (after animal tests) had been rigorous — double-blind, randomised and placebo controlled. Mathematically, given the huge number of volunteers who received the shots even before they were approved, the risk of a serious deadly or adverse effect from the approved vaccines is minimal.

20201224 dubai vacccine
VACCINE ROLL-OUT: The launch of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Dubai in December has instilled a renewed sense of confidence among residents in the battle against the coronavirus. The systematic roll-out of the programme in phases once again speaks volumes about the vision and planning of the authorities here. The first phase targets senior citizens and expats, chronic patients and frontline workers, other segments of the population will follow soon. That the vaccine, which is being administered in two doses, is free of charge has also been widely welcomed.

What if I'm afraid of this vaccine, more than the virus?

Check the facts yourself. If mathematics is the so-called "queen of the sciences", the human trials done before the vaccines were approved have yielded the equivalent queen of spades. One important bit: In those human trials, volunteers who unfortunately developed serious cases of COVID-19 actually came mostly (+90%) from the placebo group (in the case of Pfizer and Moderna trials) and 86% efficacy for the Sinopharm shot (with 99% seroconversion rate). It means one of several things:

  1. Vaccines are one of the safest and most effective health interventions for infectious disease.
  2. Considering there's still a high infection rate via natural viral transmission in the community in most parts of the world (as against a deliberate "human-challenge" infection), a vaccine would help arrest further transmission.
  3. With high prevalence of the virus, you could potentially get a serious case of coronavirus if you skip the vaccine.
  4. By avoiding the shot, you could be a victim of self-sabotage, having believed in unfounded fears propelled by unscientific claims by anti-vaxxers.

How many COVID-19 shots had been approved in the UAE?

Two. Pfizer/BioNTechSinopharm. Across the world, there are at least five COVID-19 shots approved today by various health authorities — Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Sinopharm, Gamaleya and Oxford/AstraZeneca.

'Seroconversion rate' meaning
In immunology, seroconversion is the time period during which a specific antibody develops and becomes detectable in the blood.

After seroconversion has occurred, the antibodies can be detected in blood tests for the disease.

What is the vaccine dose in the UAE?

Each UAE resident or citizen receives two doses of the vaccine, 21 to 28 days apart.

Dubai Health Authority Flu vaccination
Two vaccines — one by Sinopharm and the other by Pfizer-BioNTech — are provided free to citizens and residents in the UAE. Nursing mothers, pregnant women and children below 18 are excluded from the vaccination programme.

How effective are the vaccines?

Early evidence suggests that the first vaccines in the US helped reduce people’s risk of developing COVID-19 by around 95 per cent, according to the New York Times. That means 5 per cent are still at risk of infection. The 95 per cent efficacy will be powerful only when the number of cases decreases.

“Five per cent of a really high number is still a high number, and what you want is 5 per cent of a relatively medium or low number,” said Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, Rhode Island, US, told the New York Times.

Vaccination and herd immunity
The coronavirus is likely to continue its spread until a large majority of the population is vaccinated or has developed immunity after an infection. Experts say around 70 per cent of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, which will end the pandemic.

Why do many people believe in the wild claims by anti-vaxxers?

It comes from misunderstanding. Despite the fact that vaccines can prevent the spread of highly infectious (and lethal) diseases, a number of people refuse vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are one reason why polio is creeping back to Pakistan, according to the WHO. The most virulent anti-vaxxers are driven by conspiracy theories.

Anti vaccine 002
It's true that in many places, convincing people to get the shot could be an uphill battle, thanks to anti-vaxxers going on an overdrive. Through social media, the anti-vaxxers fan unfounded fears of what they claim as untold vaccine "side-effects". The viral nature social media, its ability to multiply half-truths, empty claims, scare-mongering and outright lies give the narrative a life of their own.

READ MORE

REMEMBER: VACCINE DOS AND DON'TS
Vaccines are not magic pills. They don’t make the coronavirus disappear.

Vaccines prime people’s bodies to fight the coronavirus, preventing a severe infection, even if they catch the virus.

If individuals contract COVID-19, they would be protected from getting seriously ill, eliminating the need for hospitalisation in most cases. And they will recover faster.

Convince me some more: Why do I need to take the COVID-19 shot?

It's a question of trust, and good sense. The history of vaccine development shows how the world has benefited from generations of illustrious scientists, following extensive lab work and laborious clinical trials. It did not always follow a straight line. In the past, vaccines took time to make, typically 4 to 16 years. There had been cases of botched or contaminated batches, which had led to more stringent government checks.

Overall, the outcome has been greatly beneficial. The current pandemic has, through joint scientistific work, cut the vaccine development process to less than 12 months. That's a revolution in itself. Vaccines are an interesting field in medicine. It combines multiple disciplines, including micro-biology and genetic engineering.

Vaccines anti-vaccine
Image Credit: Gulf News

Vaccines do not give us the cure, per se. Rather, they help train our immune system to recognise pathogens. For example, poliomyelitis (polio) virus has afflicted man for centuries, perhaps millennia. It causes one of both limbs to wither away, crippling millions — including a US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Due to heightened global cooperation, the cost polio vaccines has gone down, to $0.50 per shot. The polio virus did not go away, but its life-wasting effects had now effectively been dealt with, thanks to the global polio inoculation.

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But due to extensive polio vaccination campaigns, and developments in vaccine technology, over 90% of the world is now polio-free, a historic milestone in the fight against this once-debilitating disease. Due to heightened global cooperation, the cost polio vaccines has gone down, to $0.50 per shot. The polio virus did not go away, but its life-wasting effects had now effectively been dealt with, thanks to the global polio inoculation.

What's the brief on the Pfizer/BioNTech?

On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA), for the Pfizer jab, the first such authorisation in the US. It followed the December 2, 2020 approval by the UK, whose government gave the greenlight to the Prizer shot, making it the first Western country to do so. The authorisations came after it emerged from vaccine trials that the Pfizer/BioNTech shot was more than 90% effective and safe, based on two interim data analyses.

It simply meant this: 9 out of 10 of those who had serious COVID-19 infections from among the trial volunteets, it turned out, got the placebo. And 9 out of 10 of those who got the real shot and were subsquently infected, were just fine, with no serious effects of the virus.

The UAE has subsequently approved the same vaccine for use in the country. On December 23, 2020, it was given to the first recipients of in Dubai. The same efficacy and safety profile was shown by the Moderna shot trials, though the data came a few days later.

What about the Sinopharm vaccine in the UAE?

In July 2020, Phase III trials for the Sinopharm vaccine started in the UAE. About 31,000 trial volunteers registered, thus making the UAE one of the top trial venues for any vaccine, and with the widest mix of nationalities among volunteers in one geographic location. The vaccine was developed by Beijing Institute of Biological Product, a unit of Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group (CNBG). In September 2020, the UAE authorised emergency use of the vaccine for certain groups.

Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine
A young woman receives Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine at the Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Center in the capital Manama, last week. Image Credit: AFP

How effective is the Sinopharm vaccine?

On December 8, 2020, following extensive late-stage human trials, the UAE declared the Sinopharm vaccine has 86% efficacy, citing an interim analysis of the trial data. Thus, the Sinopharm shot was the first vaccine developed in China to get international clearance.

A subsquent analysis shows “99% seroconversion rate of neutralizing antibody and 100% effectiveness in preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease”, the ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency. “The analysis shows no serious safety concerns,” it added.

Excluded from the COVID-19 vaccination drive
Nursing mothers, pregnant women and children below 18 are excluded from the vaccination programme.

How’s life after vaccination?

Vaccination is not a licence to ditch the COVID-19 safety protocols. It’s not a passport to 2019. True, people can breathe easier two weeks after the vaccination. It may take a week or two for the body to build up some protection from the first dose of vaccine. But, they should continue to be cautious.

Vaccines approved
Image Credit: Gulf News / Agencies

Even after completing the two doses of the vaccine, people should also wear masks and avoid large groups and indoor gatherings. They must continue to practise social distancing and frequent handwashing. These are important for their health and the health of others.

Can vaccinated people can spread the virus?

Vaccines don’t offer perfect protection. No vaccine is 100 per cent effective. But the COVID-19 vaccines provide a very high level of protection. Scientists still are unsure whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, although early results in the US are promising.

What's the biggest challenge for vaccinating the world?

There’s the notion across the world that availability of a vaccine will break the spell of COVID-19 over our lives, and we can finally rid ourselves of our masks. But this may be premature, given the many challenges ahead.

For one: vaccine hesitancy towards vaccination. That means a significant segment of the population who harbour massive doubts about the vaccine's efficacy and safety. Some are brone by fears of "side-effects". This is rampant. In a June 2020 survey, conducted by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Action Platform, only 71.5% of participants reported that they would be very or somewhat likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine. Experts estimate that at least 70% of the population will need to be immune to the virus to stop community spread, building and sustaining vaccine confidence has never been more important.

Another challenge: Vaccine production and logistics. Bringing the shots to the farthest corners of the world is fraught with challenges. Then there's the "last mile" issue. Linking up vaccine providers, distributors and consumers, keeping a cold supply chain framework or streamlining the vaccine management from prioritization and administration, all the way to monitoring adverse effects is a daunting task that would involve a global effort.

TAKEAWAYS:

  • You can help build trust in the vaccine and encourage uptake, by refusing to share unverified, earth-shattering claims on the so-called "bad side effects" of vaccines.
  • COVID-safe precautions in workplaces and when in public will remain vital in slowing its spread in the meantime.
  • There are least 172 vaccination centres across the UAE as of January 10, 2020. Check with your doctor if you're eligible and get it done soonest.
  • You can help stop COVID-19 by taking the vaccine yourself (if you qualify, and if you hadn't done it yet).

I took the shot: I’m diabetic

By Angel Tesorero, Staff Reporter

Dubai: I’m only 45 years old. But because I’m diabetic, had a previous history of nephrotic syndrome (kidney problem), and currently taking medication to maintain safe blood pressure, I was included in the first wave of Dubai residents who received the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month.

The process of registering for the vaccine was smooth and straightforward. After reading all the vaccination campaign details from our (Gulf News) online report, I called the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) hotline (800 342) to book an appointment.

The process of registering for the vaccine was smooth and straightforward. After reading all the vaccination campaign details from our (Gulf News) online report, I called the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) hotline (800 342) to book an appointment.

- Angel Tesorero, Staff Reporter

A voice prompt answered my call and clearly specified the first phase of the vaccination campaign covers only senior citizens and Dubai residents over 60 years old, people of determination, frontliners in the public and private sector, and those with chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, liver and kidney diseases, hypertension, obesity and people with a BMI of 35 or more.) I’m included in the last category.

Before getting an appointment, I first had to answer a set of questions, including history of any allergic reaction to food or medicine; if I have epilepsy or any neurological disease or if I’m taking any inhibitors or stimulants. I was also asked if I had previously taken a COVID-19 jab or recently taken any type of vaccine.

Automated process

After satisfying all the automated questions, a DHA call centre staff took my call to continue with the verification. I confirmed that I’m a Dubai resident and I gave my Emirates ID number. I also shared the brand of meds I’m taking for my blood pressure and sugar level maintenance.

The DHA staff booked my vaccine appointment and I got a message on my phone confirming my schedule on December 29, 2020 at Nadd Al Hamar Health Center. The procedure was quick and easy. I was ushered by the staff to a room where the vaccine is being administered. A hospital staff took my details and confirmed my appointment. Prior to going to Nadd Al Hamar Health Center, I got an SMS from DHA reminding me of my vaccine appointment.

Briefing

There were two nurses in the room who were present when I got my vaccine. One explained to me the type of vaccine I will get and the possible side effects that I might feel after receiving it. The other nurse asked if I read and understood the consent form. She also took my vitals signs before administering the vaccine.

In the days that followed, I continued to monitor myself. No fatigue. No headache. No fever. No shivering. No vomiting, etc. Only a minor muscle pain on my upper left arm, where the vaccine was administered.

- Angel Tesorero, Staff Reporter

The injection was painless – if I can say honestly – or maybe because I was busy taking a selfie when the nurse injected the vaccine. The female nurse timed the injection with me pressing the selfie button on my phone. After the inoculation, the nurse told me to wait at the clinic for 20 minutes and observe if I felt anything unusual. I was ushered in the waiting room and had an online chat with my daughter that I successfully took the jab.

Twenty minutes late, I went back to the nurse. She asked me if I experienced any headache or muscle pain. I said none – only that I felt hungry as it was already lunch time. The nurse got the pun and immediately discharged me from the clinic. Soon after, I received two messages from DHA – one was a link to my vaccine card and the other the schedule of my next vaccine appointment.

In the days that followed, I continued to monitor myself. No fatigue. No headache. No fever. No shivering. No vomiting, etc. Only a minor muscle pain on my upper left arm, where the vaccine was administered. I will complete and take the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on January 19. Will keep you posted.

vaccine history
Image Credit: Jay Hilotin / Gulf News