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Vaccination centre set up at the Dubai International Financial Center DIFC, Dubai Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: The UAE has so far administrated more than 5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at a rate of 52.56 doses per 100 people, in yet another global health achievement, said Dr Farida Al Hosani, official spokesperson for the UAE Health Sector.

Speaking during the weekly media briefing, Al Hosani revealed that the total COVID-19 tests done so far has exceeded 28 million, an achievement that highlights the country’s ability to handle the pandemic.

She affirmed that the Ministry of Health and Prevention is continuously providing the COVID-9 vaccine, with a priority to senior citizens, individuals with chronic diseases and people of determination, in addition to all individuals who are eligible to take the second dose.

“We have successfully reached a rate of 48.46 per cent of vaccinations within the elderly segment, a notable achievement to reach the acquired immunity, which helps reduce the number of cases and complications resulting from the disease to the control of the pandemic,” Al Hosani said.

She made it clear that the vaccine was provided to 40.48 per cent of the total population in the country, which is in line with the plan to provide the vaccine to 50 per cent of the total population during the first quarter of this year.

Speaking on how the vaccine works, Al Hosani said: “The body’s immune system recognises the foreign organism and produces antibodies to fight it. The vaccine prepares the body to fight infection caused by the virus or different bacteria, and the vaccines contain inactive or weak parts of the organism that causes the disease, or the genetic code that creates the same response and stimulate the immune system.

How vaccines work

She explained that the Sinopharm vaccine works using dead viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus without risking a reaction. The vaccine stimulates the human immune system and forms antibodies to resist the COVID-19 virus. Meanwhile, the Pfizer-Bionic vaccine works with RNA technology. This means that part of the gene code is injected into the body, prompting it to start producing s-protein on the shell of the virus that triggers immune response,” Al Hosani noted.

“Both AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccine are based on a viral vector, it is placed on another virus called adenovirus, which is modified and molecules of the emerging COVID-19 virus are added to it. The virus is considered weak but sufficient to produce antibodies,” she added.

“Many people focus on differences in vaccines and how they are manufactured and preserved, but despite these differences, vaccines are similar in stimulating the body by producing antibodies, giving the necessary immunity in the event of exposure to the virus. Sinopharm’s clinical trials have shown that its vaccine can reduce the chances of contracting COVID-19 and prevent complications from the disease, but no one can yet determine how long protection will last. This applies to all vaccines developed to treat COVID-19” Al Hosani, stated.

'Memory cells'

She emphasised that the level of antibodies can decrease over months, but the immune system also contains special cells called “memory cells” that may retain COVID-19 information for long periods of time that may reach years. These cells can remember the pathogen, if the infection is encountered again, and stimulate the immune system to reproduce antibodies that are resistant to the virus.

She underlined that researchers found that these cells underwent cycles of mutations even after recovery and were able to produce effective antibodies more than those initially caused by the infection. Tests have also indicated that these antibodies are able to identify mutated strains.

A vaccine rota

“We are currently working with relevant health authorities to determine the require vaccination administration schedule as is the case with other vaccines such as the flu vaccine to ensure that people are adequately protected. Most of recorded infections are after the first dose and due to exposure to the virus from the community before the formation of sufficient immunity in the body to prevent the disease, which is expected to be reached at least two weeks after the second dose,” she said.

“We advise all individuals to commit to taking the second dose, to ensure the highest rate of prevention of the disease, and to continue preventive measures even after taking both doses. For people who have been infected after taking the first dose, and in case of asymptomatic or minor symptoms, we advise them to complete the second dose after full recovery,” Al Hosani highlighted.

“If symptoms are moderate or severe and require hospitalisation, then we advise individuals to see their doctor and perform the necessary immunity test to determine whether a second dose is needed,” she said, adding that there is no doubt that vaccines are the best way to defeat this pandemic, and the higher the vaccination rate in society, the higher the immunity rate in this society and therefore the closer we reach recovery, the closer we are to reaching collective immunity.

Also speaking during the briefing was Mona Khalil, Director of Government Communications Department at the Ministry of Community Development.

“Our leadership has ensured that the UAE society is a priority. The impacts that may arise from the pandemic was taken into account in-order to support the community through initiatives and preventive means to ensure safety and stability. This pandemic has impacted many aspects of society, most notably the psychological aspect, which in turn may cause many repercussions if not properly addressed. It is necessary to anticipate preventive methods that support psychological safety,” Khalil said.

A support line is in place

“The UAE covered stem cells treatment costs of COVID-19 patients, and the UAE Red Crescent has taken care of all families of those who have sadly died of the virus from all nationalities living in the UAE. Additionally, the “Mental support line” was extended to society to enable them to face the psychological challenges of the crisis, through telephone and electronic communication channels that preserve the privacy and security of individuals” she added.

“In an effort to promote mental health in the community, the “Mental Support Line” initiative was launched for front-line workers, by allocating a separate telephone line to provide moral and mental support to our first line of defense,” she further said.

Khalil went on to say that the “We Are Your Family” initiative, which targets senior citizens, aims to achieve family and community cohesion, as well as the launch of the “You Are Important” campaign, which targets the category of workers to promote attention to mental health.

“The Ministry of Community Development continues to provide family counselling remotely through the “Taalouf” initiative, in addition to the “Taalouf” workshops through the Ministry’s Instagram account, to provide family guidance to all members of the community. The 7-week national Mental support campaign “Don’t worry” was launched through social media platforms, generating more than 900,000 interactions and participation from across the community,” she noted.

She stressed that The UAE has become a living example of tolerance, coexistence and acceptance of the other, with more than 200 nationalities enjoying a decent life and respect, and tolerance is a gateway to mental happiness and community health.

“We emphasise the importance of mental wellness and providing the necessary mental support to all segments of society especially children and the elderly and educating them about positive practices and activities supporting mental wellness” Khalil said.