Dubai working on Pfizer-BioNTech supplies and aims to vaccinate 100 per cent by late 2021

Dr Amer Sharif denied hospitals were full but said the private sector helped health services cope with recent surge

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More supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected in Dubai soon, while Russia’s Sputnik V and any other approved inoculations will be used as needed.

Dr Amer Sharif, head of Dubai’s Covid-19 command centre, said the goal was to vaccinate 100 per cent of eligible adults by the final three months of 2021.

He also countered reports that hospitals were full. He said the private sector had been instrumental in providing bed capacity recently.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Sunday, the senior official said the government was confident a steady supply of vaccines was in the pipeline.

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We've looked at different decisions, whether it's partial lockdown or full lockdown. It's striking the balance

The Pfizer-BioNTech shot was the first to be approved by the World Health Organisation – but sheer demand and the need to keep it frozen at minus 70°C has led to global shortages.

“The Pfizer supply has been a global challenge and we’re no different than any other country,” Dr Sharif said.

“There has been a lot of discussion with the Pfizer reps in the region. We know that there will be new supplies coming in soon. But in addition to Pfizer, the government has made available other vaccines, such as AstraZeneca-Oxford. Any vaccine that has been approved by the health authorities will be made available.”

Dr Sharif was asked by Bloomberg anchor Manus Cranny about the use of Russia’s Sputnik V, which was approved for emergency use by UAE federal authorities last month.

Moscow faced serious questions about the speed at which Sputnik V was tested and trialled – but it now appears to be safe and among the most effective against the coronavirus, The Lancet reported last week.

"The Ministry of Health has approved ... the Sputnik vaccine, which lately published its data in The Lancet," Dr Sharif said.

“Health authorities are study the emerging releases and, based on the approvals, any vaccine that goes through approvals will be made available.”

Coping with the surge

Dr Sharif was asked about the recent spike in which daily cases rose from less than 1,000 in late December to nearly 4,000 last week. Cases have since dropped to about 3,200.

“We’ve been lucky that we have a very successful public-private partnership ... and we’ve been able to be very agile and flexible,” he said.

“Accordingly, the system is now able to keep up with all of the people who require treatment in the emirate of Dubai, whether it’s additional beds for Covid ... for moderate and severe cases. We’re before the curve.

“We’re very comfortable with the current capacity available to deal with Covid cases across the system and we’ll make sure that no one in Dubai who needs to be treated will be denied access.”

Second lockdown was considered

Dr Sharif was asked whether tougher measures on personal freedom, including a return to a stay-at-home order first imposed last April, was considered in response to the recent surge.

“We’ve looked at different decisions, whether it’s partial lockdown or full lockdown, heightening our precautionary measures or lifting some restrictions,” he said.

Dr Amer Sharif receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in early January. More shipments should arrive soon, he said. Dubai Media Office

“So far, the current situation is what the leadership has decided and it’s striking the balance again between the safety and well-being of our people, and also social well-being and economic sustainability.

“We’re monitoring the numbers and we’re monitoring the rolling averages and the healthcare [situation]. And that’s where we come in with decisions based on data and based on science.”

Are most virus cases in Dubai? 

Dr Sharif declined to give figures, but suggested it was expected that Dubai, the largest Emirati city and commercial capital of the Middle East, would have a large proportion of cases.

“The nature of Dubai, the size of Dubai, the population density ... as expected there will be numbers that contribute towards the overall number of the country,” he said.

“We also need to be aware that the nature of the city, being a service-driven city. We need to make sure that we strike the balance between the numbers of cases, and also the social and economic well-being of our people.”

Hitting herd immunity this year

Dr Sharif, who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month, reiterated the goal set by federal officials of vaccinating 50 per cent of the eligible population – which does not include children – by the end of March.

He said the longer-term plan is to hit 100 per cent in the final three months of 2021.

“We’ve seen a great response from people and I’d like to thank them for their sense of responsibility,” he said.

“We’re planning for 50 per cent [by end of March] and we’re planning for 100 per cent of eligible adults by Q4 of this year.”

“The health authorities and all of our colleagues are working towards making that happen. And I would encourage everyone to continue to be vaccinated.”