Abu Dhabi residents get Covid-19 vaccine shots as clinics brace for surge in demand

One hospital group said large companies are block booking places

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A private hospital group responsible for the delivery of Covid-19 vaccine shots in Abu Dhabi took 1,500 bookings in the first two days.

VPS Healthcare said several major employers had already asked about mass vaccinations for staff and that demand was expected to surge in the coming weeks.

The medical group is part of Abu Dhabi government's campaign to offer the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine at dozens of hospitals and clinics.

At the VPS-owned Burjeel Hospital in downtown Abu Dhabi on Sunday, a steady stream of residents received the first of two shots.

“Word of mouth is likely to be the biggest asset to reach as many people as possible, particularly those who may be unsure of its efficacy,” said Dr Pankaj Chawla, head of VPS's Covid-19 task force.

“Companies and corporations are centralising their vaccination programmes, and we have had a huge number of calls from them."

“Word of mouth will soon spread from those who have already taken the vaccine that it is safe," Dr Chawla said.

He said the campaign was focused on certain populations, including the blue collar workers in Mussafah.

“That should give a lot of motivation to others because we need to come together to make the world a safer place.”

Dr Chawla was one of about 500 staff from VPS to take part in the Sinopharm vaccine trial this year. Phase 3 trials involved 31,000 residents.

Officials said the vaccine was found to be 86 per cent effective in offering protection against a virus that has claimed 609 lives in the Emirates and 1.6 million worldwide.

A purpose-built cancer centre at Burjeel Medical City, one of the group’s hospitals, was rapidly transformed into a Covid-19 treatment centre early in the year.

Hundreds of patients were treated there, while the hospital’s pathology laboratory processed thousands of PCR tests.

The facility has now become the central hub for co-ordinating vaccinations in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. It has a nursing team and other specialists to monitor those taking the jab.

“That should also give people the confidence it is safe,” Dr Chawla said.

UAE begins vaccination regime

UAE begins vaccination regime

“We have set up BMC as a central point from where all the vaccines can be dispersed in line with all the protocols and policies across the entire group.

“In March, the hospital was dedicated to Covid-19 patients, and we treated close to 850 cases there.

“Within a week, we were able to convert almost the entire hospital into a negative air pressure facility, one of the prerequisites to help contain the virus.

“All VPS Healthcare facilities are now free of the virus.

“If anyone has any reservations about safety, I can say none of us have experienced any kind of side effects since taking the vaccine.”

Anyone aged 18 or over with a valid Emirates ID is eligible to get the shot. Those between 15 and 17 years old could also take the vaccine after a medical consultation.

The Sinopharm vaccine is available free at all clinics run by Abu Dhabi's public health operator, Seha, and at hospitals run by VPS Healthcare.

NMC Healthcare is also offering the vaccine at 11 hospitals in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

While the shot is free, NMC charges a consultation fee and the cost of the syringe and needle via health insurance.

Visitors must also make an appointment.

Michael Brenden Davis, chief executive of NMC Healthcare, said the roll-out of a vaccine within a year was a triumph of medical and scientific collaboration.

“In spite of this good news, several concerns still stand out regarding the characteristics of the vaccines and how quickly it can be distributed," he said.

"As the time to market for these vaccinations is short, we still don’t know how long the protection against the virus will last, and what, if any, are the long-term side effects.”

The Sinopharm vaccine available in the UAE is administered in two injections, 21 days apart.

Those receiving the shot are required to stay under medical observation for 30 minutes afterwards.

Mr Davis said the biggest challenge could yet be the logistical side of delivering the vaccine to billions of people around the world.

“As the effort mounts, syringes, refrigerators, medical supplies and staff will need to be managed as well," he said.

“Given what the world has been through over that past 10 months, we are ready and willing to move forward and work on the answers to these questions and others in the months and years to come.”

Appointments can be made through the helpline 800 5546, WhatsApp number 056 538 0055 or via the website www.covidvaccineuae.com.