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People sit as they wait their turn for vaccine trials at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.Reuters

Abu Dhabi: Volunteers in the UAE’s COVID-19 vaccine trials have to undergo PCR tests every two weeks after they complete the final vaccine assessment.

Speaking to Gulf News, volunteers said the tests are made available to them free of charge at designated centres run by Abu Dhabi’s public health provider, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha). Once the PCR test is taken, the status on the Al Hosn track-and-trace app is updated to read “Vaccination Volunteer”.

PCR test reminder

“I took my vaccine doses in August, and completed all the blood tests by September. But I still received a follow-up call last week to see how I was doing. In addition, I was asked to take the PCR tests every two weeks,” said Antu Joseph, 32, a nurse at LLH Hospital in Abu Dhabi. “I have done the fortnightly PCR test, and it is reassuring to receive the COVID-19 negative result each time,” she added.

Smooth affair

Hussa Al Mansoori, another volunteer, said she is waiting to find out the results of the vaccine trial. “The trial was a smooth affair for me, and I faced no complications. I have also taken PCR tests every two weeks since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, as mandated by the company I work at. Now, I am very excited about what the success of this vaccine means for the UAE, and the world. I really hope we will hear positive news soon,” said the 49-year-old Emirati IT executive.

Sinopharm vaccine

The two women were among more than 31,000 volunteers in the UAE for the Phase III trials of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical giant, Sinopharm China National Biotec Group. The trials kicked off on July 16, and registrations closed at the end of August. According to the developers, the vaccine had successfully generated COVID-19 antibodies in more than a 1,000 volunteers in the first two stages of trials in China, which saw two doses delivered about three weeks apart.

No major side effects

Results are still pending for the Phase III trials in the UAE, but officials have revealed preliminary results, which showed no major side effects, including in 1,000 volunteers with chronic diseases. Following this, on September 15, the UAE leadership granted emergency approval for use of the vaccine on front line workers.

The trial itself is a double-blinded study, with volunteers receiving one of two strains of the vaccine or a placebo. The project was led in the UAE by technology firm, Group 42, and supervised by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and Abu Dhabi health care regulator, the Department of Health. All medical processes were meanwhile administered by Seha.

Volunteer vigilance

In press briefings, health officials have urged vaccine volunteers to continue to remain vigilant. Al Mansoori said she was reminded even during her final blood test, taken on the 42nd day after her first vaccine shot, to continue to wear a face mask.

Dr Mohammed Elnaggar, another volunteer, said his participation in the vaccine trials had helped him feel a little more reassured when working with patients. “I can also travel to and from Abu Dhabi without having to be screened for COVID-19 at the border. Other than this, I have been following all precautionary measures,” said the specialist urologist at Burjeel Royal Hospital, Al Ain.

Russian vaccine trial

As volunteers await the results of the UAE trials, the Sinopharm vaccine is being tested in Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi also announced this month that it will launch Phase III tests for a COVID-19 vaccine developed in Russia. Named Sputnik V, the vaccine is already undergoing large-scale trials in Russia at the moment.