Abu Dhabi: At one of the UAE’s largest COVID-19 vaccination centres, there is an unmistakable air of hope.
The Seha Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal Vaccination Centre sees 3,000 people getting vaccinated every day during the 15 hours of its operation. And there are provisions to increase capacity further at the Al Mina area location if the need arises, Dr Dana Al Marzouqi, site manager, told Gulf News. The centre is operated by Abu Dhabi’s public health provider, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha).
“When we first opened in December, we were seeing about a 1,000 people come in. But the uptake has grown tremendously over the last three weeks. In response, we’ve increased our operating hours. People are enthusiastic and willing to get the vaccine. And as we are continuing to emphasise, the vaccine is safer than the disease,” Dr Al Marzouqi said.
“As we see more and more people coming in, we are prioritising certain groups of people. The elderly, people of determination and people with chronic conditions can come in without an appointment, and are given priority status at the centre,” she added.
The doctor added the post-vaccination waiting time had also recently been scrapped for healthy people without any symptoms or risk factors.
According to officials, the Cruise Terminal vaccination and the similarly-sized vaccination facility at the Al Ain Convention Hall were each set up in a span of just four days. Seha will soon be running a total of 218 vaccination centres across the UAE, including drive-through facilities and its more than 100 facilities in Abu Dhabi Emirate.
During a visit to the bustling vaccination centre, Gulf News spoke to some of the people there on a weekday.
‘This vaccine gives us hope’
Samer Ghassan, 38, was getting his getting his first dose. He is an IT and security professional from Palestine. “I had asthma as a child, so have been a little apprehensive about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. But my 65-year-old father, my mother and my wife have all gone ahead and got the shots, so I might as well get it done. On the other hand, my niece contracted COVID-19 in Lebanon, and is quite sick right now, so we are truly lucky here to have access to the vaccine in the UAE,” he said.
“COVID-19 has changed all our lives in unimaginable ways, and I know how much weight I have put on because we I couldn’t always go for my daily two-hour walks. This vaccine gives us hope,” Ghassan added.
He said that he and his colleagues had booked their appointments, and had to wait just 30 minutes before being called in. “The whole process was really quite simple and uplifting,” he said. “Our leaders have taken the vaccine, so why shouldn’t we?”
Khalfan Al Hammadi, an Emirati military officer, was accompanying his family for their vaccinations, including his 16-year-old son. “I got my vaccines quite a few months ago, and had nothing to worry about afterwards. Today, I’ve brought my wife, two daughters and my son. The way I look at it, our leaders have themselves got the vaccine, so why shouldn’t we? What have we got to be worried about?” Al Hammadi said.
In fact, only Al Hammadi’s three youngest children — aged 9, 11 and 14 — are currently unvaccinated against COVID-19. “The vaccine reassures us, and allows us to move about safely in our country. It is the key to ending this pandemic, and our leaders have shown us the way,” he added, before heading on to assist his family members.
‘Better to have something than nothing, right?’
Jenny Rosemangahas, 43, a housemaid from the Philippines, was happy to be taking her second dose. “Having a vaccine against COVID-19 is better than not having anything, right? That’s what I understand, so I was happy to be getting the vaccine. My first dose was on January 1, and I immediately felt safer. Now I am finishing my second dose,” she told Gulf News.
Rosemangahas has four children in the Philippines, and she hasn’t seen them in quite a while. “I want to travel back to the Philippines in March to see my family, and also to celebrate my mother’s birthday. And now that I have got the vaccine, I can travel safely. Besides, by being vaccinated, I can also help protect my family members, none of whom have got COVID-19 so far,” she said.
‘I had no side-effects with the first dose’
Saad Kontar, 37, a senior analyst from Syria, was getting his second dose of the vaccine. “My wife and two young children are in Syria, and they do not have access to a vaccine. I want to go visit them in three months’ time, and vaccinating myself is one way to protect them, especially as I meet a lot of people every day as part of my work. I got the first dose three weeks ago and encountered no side effects,” he said.
Kontar added that everyone should get the vaccine to keep vulnerable members of the community safe. “COVID-19 cases are on the rise everywhere, and this vaccination initiative is a truly wise way on the part of the UAE government to stem it. In fact, most of the people around me are in a hurry to get immunised. I had no side-effects with the first dose,” he said.
‘This is true community service’
Maab Sameer, 22, a health management graduate from Sudan, has been volunteering at COVID-19 management facilities for the past few months. “COVID-19 has upended everything we know. I was supposed to graduate but earlier but things got pushed back because of the pandemic. Anything we can do to resolve the situation should be done, whether it is taking the vaccine or volunteering at a vaccination centre, I think. This is true community service,” Sameer said.
She has been helping with IT management at the vaccination centre, and has also got her first vaccine dose. “My parents and siblings are all vaccinated as well. And as I work here, I am learning a lot about health management, which I hope will eventually help me professionally. Besides, as I do my bit to fight this pandemic, I am also getting a chance to make new friends,” she added.
‘I want to help the UAE, my home for 16 years’
Jennifer Margate, a long-term nurse, has been working at the Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal Vaccination Centre from the start of the year. Every day, she administers COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 70 people. “I myself was part of the Phase III Sinopharm trials, and am proud that I was able to contribute. Instead of being worried about my own safety, I wanted to do what I could to help the UAE, my home for 16 years. I also wanted to protect myself as a frontliner,” Margate said.
After getting her vaccine doses during the trial, she had some minor side effects. “As a nurse, I knew these were nothing to worry about. Besides, COVID-19 has restricted so much. The vaccine is what is now giving us hope, and the UAE authorities’ initiative to make the vaccine available to everyone is truly fantastic,” Margate said.
“In fact, I would rather be here, helping vaccinate dozens of people, than performing any other nursing role at the moment. It’s a great time for me to practise the infection control skills I have, and it is the best way to protect the UAE, where my heart belongs,” she added with a beam.
‘I am proud to be here, doing what I am doing’
Asbin Gurung, 24, is working as a security officer at the Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal Vaccination Centre. “I feel very proud doing this in my first UAE gig. The pandemic broke out when I first got here in February 2020, and I had to wait a while for my first placement. I saw many people suffer from uncertainty and stress, and today, I am happy to be able to serve the community in its fight against COVID-19,” he said.
Gurung has himself been safe from COVID-19, and will soon receive his own vaccine doses.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Dr Al Marzouqi also addressed some of the most pertinent vaccination-related concerns.
Of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently registered in the UAE, which is offered at the Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal?
Dr Al Marzouqi: The vaccine offered is the Sinopharm vaccine, and people get two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. The vaccine has proven to be safe, with 86 per cent reported efficacy against COVID-19, and more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of vaccination.
What are the working hours at the centre, and how many people can be served in a day?
The centre operates from 7am to 10pm every day, including Fridays, after we extended our 8-to-8 timings. With 24 registration stations and 48 nursing and vaccination stations, and our 200 staff — including nurses, administrators, cleaners and volunteers — can serve about 3,000 people every day. We also have a doctor’s consultation room, an emergency room and a laboratory.
Can you come in without an appointment? If not, what is the procedure?
We are currently entertaining walk-in visits, even though we do encourage people to book an appointment on the Seha app.
Do some groups get priority for vaccination?
Yes, we currently prioritise three groups: the elderly, people of determination, and those with chronic conditions. While an Emirates ID is sufficient for registration, we encourage people to bring in documents showing that their chronic conditions are controlled. This is for their own safety and reassurance, as the nurse can take a look before administering the vaccine.
What are the groups of people who currently cannot get the vaccine?
Pregnant women, women nursing children younger than six months and women planning to get pregnant in the next three months should not get the vaccine, simply because we do not have enough data yet on the vaccine’s safety with these groups. We are anticipating results on these.
People who are immunocompromised also should not get the vaccine, including people battling cancers. On the other hand, if you are a cancer survivor, you can bring a physician’s note to get the vaccine.
What is the protocol for people who have chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, or autoimmune conditions?
The general rule is that the vaccine is safer than the disease. With that being said, people with chronic conditions should ensure that their condition is under control. They need to check with their physicians, and ensure that parameters like blood sugar, pulse rate and blood pressure are under control.
Blood pressure: If the individual’s blood pressure is higher than 160/95mmHg, we cannot administer the vaccine. The individual will be asked to get the blood pressure under control before returning with a physician’s clearance.
Allergies: People who are allergic to the Sinopharm vaccine components will have to get a clearance from the physician. In case of other allergies like food allergies, the vaccine will be given while ensuring the patient is aware of things to watch out for.
Uncontrolled blood sugar: People with diabetes are given the vaccine, simply because the vaccine is safer for even a person with uncontrolled blood sugar than COVID-19. Only people with diabetes accompanied by severe end-organ damage are not given the vaccine.
COVID-19 history: People who have previously had COVID-19 but have received a double-negative result can get the vaccine right away. However, in cases of severe COVID-19, the individual is referred to the on-site physician for an antibody test, simply because they may already have a high level of COVID-19 antibodies and therefore may not need the vaccine right away. The antibody test result takes 2-3 days, and in case they still need a vaccine, they will be contacted by Seha.
Vaccine history: There are two groups of vaccines that we need to consider.
People who have taken an inactivated vaccine need to wait two weeks before getting their COVID-19 vaccine. Some common inactivate vaccines are those administered for the flu, and Hepatitis B.
Those who have taken a live virus vaccine, such as the MMR vaccine or yellow fever vaccine, need to wait a month before getting their COVID-19 vaccine.
Are you currently having to turn away any of the people who come down to get vaccinated?
We are currently able to fit in everyone who comes down, or schedule them for an appointment on the next day. We are also fully ready to swiftly expand capacity if the need arises; after all, this centre itself was built in a span of just four days.
Can you come in without an appointment?
For people in the priority groups, there is currently no need to book an appointment. Others can come on a walk-in basis, but a prior appointment will speed up the process.
Can you outline the process of vaccination?
Eligibility check: At the entrance to the vaccination centre, you have to present a valid Emirates ID to the security guard. You are then ushered into the waiting hall, where you take a token and wait to be called.
Registration: Once your number is called, you present your Emirates ID to the designated registration station. [This is a counter with an administrator sitting behind a glass panel.]
After your Emirates ID is registered, you will be given a set of consent forms, and you will have to take a seat near one of the 48 vaccination and assessment stations.
At this stage, women who are not on contraceptives have to take a pregnancy test.
Assessment and vaccination: When you are called in, a nurse will ask you to read and sign the consent forms, then take your medical history and vitals. This is also when you can present any documents you have brought in from your physicians. In case you have additional concerns, you may be referred to an on-site physician at this point. If everything seems right, the nurse will administer the vaccine. This is a shot given to your upper arm.
The nurse will then inform you about side effects, tell you what to do if you experience any, and if you feel all right, you can leave the centre right away. Otherwise, you may be asked to wait for up to 30 minutes for a post-vaccination assessment.
Next dose: An appointment for your second dose will be sent to your phone by SMS.
What are the most common side effects, and what should one do if they encounter any?
This vaccine appears to be among the safest we have worked with, and most side effects are minor, and expected with almost any vaccine as your body develops antibodies to the virus.
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The most commonly reported side effects are fever, headache, flu-like symptoms, and gastric symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. People are advised to report their symptoms to 02 4493333, and can approach any Seha facility for treatment. These symptoms generally subside within 72 hours.
What would your message be to people receiving their vaccines?
Thank you for choosing to vaccinate. And don’t forget your COVID-19 protective measures: Regular handwashing, face masks and social distancing.