This week, callers to the customer service number of Seha, Abu Dhabi’s public healthcare provider, have been greeted with a new pre-recorded message. “Dear customer, we would like to inform you that the Covid-19 vaccine is available.”
The UAE has announced that the Sinopharm vaccine, manufactured in China, is officially registered for use. Phase 3 trials have shown it to have an overall efficacy of 86 per cent.
The development of viable vaccines against coronavirus barely a year after it was first reported to exist is an unprecedented triumph in the history of medical science. It is, moreover, a testament to the strength of international co-operation during a year in which the pandemic suppressed cross-border travel and disrupted global supply chains. The Sinopharm vaccine has been trialled in various countries, including the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco.
Preparations to deploy the vaccine widely will mark a turning point at which we could not have arrived without the legion of volunteers who participated in various trial stages. Sinopharm trials began in the UAE in July, only a few months after the country reported its first cases. By September, when public health officials approved the vaccine for emergency use, 31,000 volunteers had participated. They embodied a wide cross-section of society, including government ministers, frontline workers, religious leaders and teachers, among others.
The early start to the process mirrors progress being made in the UK, which is the first country to begin mass deployment of a vaccine that has been tested in a large clinical trial. Unlike the UAE, where the vaccine is now available on a voluntary basis to anyone booking an appointment with Seha, the UK programme prioritises nine vulnerable groups of people. It utilises the Pfizer vaccine, which was tested on 43,000 individuals and shows 95 per cent efficacy. Morocco is also preparing for a mass vaccination campaign to begin this month, initially with the Sinopharm jab, followed by the vaccine developed by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca.
The Sinopharm vaccine is notable for relying on proven technology. It involves a killed version of coronavirus to boost the body’s immune response, whereas the Pfizer vaccine use memory RNA to target the virus’s spike proteins.
According to the UAE trial results, the Sinopharm vaccine has a high seroconversion rate, creating antibodies against coronavirus in 99 per cent of those administered with it. The trial also showed it to be 100 per cent effective in “preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease”, according to the Ministry of Health and Prevention. After booking an appointment with Seha, individuals can receive the first of two shots. The second follows three weeks later.
While the availability of a viable vaccine to the public will signal the start of a return to normal life, mass vaccination is sure to be a gradual progress, whether in the UAE or elsewhere. In the meantime, the public’s health and its hope for a brighter tomorrow will continue to rely on vigilance, care and a sense of civic responsibility on the part of individuals.
The rewards are clear. In Abu Dhabi, where a rigorous regime of public-health measures have largely kept the virus at bay, authorities announced yesterday that most restrictions will be lifted within the next fortnight. The emirate will resume “all economic, tourism, cultural and entertainment activities,” officials said. That is not only a sign of what we can look forward to, but also how much we achieved in the face of a remarkably challenging year.