Explained: full guide to Dubai's Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine campaign

The public distribution of the US-German vaccine is a lot to take in. Here we break it down for you

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The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved and is being distributed to priority groups across Dubai.

The first shipment of the shot – pioneered by Prof Ugur Sahin and his wife Dr Ozlem Tureci – arrived on an Emirates cargo flight from Brussels last week.

In the coming months much of the population is expected to receive the vaccine, which comes in two shots taken 21 days apart.

People with underlying health conditions must hold off for now. And there are implications for Dubai residents on Abu Dhabi visas.

Here, with the help of Dubai Health Authority's official guide to the vaccine, we break the process down for you:

Which vaccine has Dubai approved and why?

Last week, Dubai's crisis and disaster committee and the federal Ministry of Health and Prevention approved a vaccine that was created by the German drug technology company BioNTech and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

The vaccine has been proven to be a safe and effective way to protect individuals from the new coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2), which causes the disease in humans that we all now know as Covid-19.

As with other vaccines it stimulates the body to build resistance to the virus and strengthens the immune system by training it to form antibodies.

The Pfizer-BioNtech shot, which was designed from scratch, was the fastest to go from concept to reality in just 10 months and is 95 per cent effective.

Other vaccines for Covid-19, such as Oxford-AstraZeneca and Russia's Sputnik V, were adapted from existing methods and shots that were already in the works to fight other diseases.

The United States, United Kingdom, European Union and many of the Gulf states have approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and placed orders for millions of doses.

What scientists don't yet know is how effective any vaccine is at stopping an inoculated person from carrying and spreading the virus – which is why mask rules remain in place whether you've received the shots or not.

Who is eligible at this stage?

As with most countries, the authorities are giving priority to people who are most at risk of infection, or people at risk of serious complications from infection, followed by the rest of society.

Dubai Health Authority's specific target group for the next three months is as follows:

- senior citizens and residents of all nationalities over 60 years

- people with chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, liver and kidney diseases, hypertension, obesity and people with a BMI of 35 or more)

epa08906845 A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Zabeel Health Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 27 December 2020. The Gulf emirate of Dubai has started to give the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to people on 23 December 2020.  EPA/ALI HAIDER
A Dubai resident receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Zabeel Health Centre on 27 December, 2020. Ali Haider / EPA

- people with disabilities, often known as 'people of determination' in the Emirates

- frontline workers in the public and private sector, including medical staff, non-medical hospital workers, emergency services

- employees in sensitive and vital positions, such as government employees working to tackle the pandemic

DHA said the vaccine drive will be expanded to all other Dubai visa holders in the coming months.

Who isn't eligible yet?

- the general population over the age of 18

- nursing mothers

- pregnant women

- people below 18 years

- people with an immunodeficiency disease

- those who are seriously allergic to any vaccine, food, medicine or substance OR those who carry an EpiPen to counter severe reactions

How do you register for the vaccine?

You can download the DHA app here on an iPhone or here on most Android phones.

You can also call the vaccine hotline on 800 342.

If you do not have health card number to register via the app, DHA advises Dubai residents to open a file for Covid-19 vaccine by sending an email info@dha.gov.ae.


Where do you go to get the vaccine?

-  Zabeel Primary Health Care Centre, Zabeel Park, Downtown Dubai

- Al Mizhar Primary Health Care Centre, near Mushrif Park

- Nad Al Hamr Primary Health Care Centre, Ras Al Khor

- Barsha Primary Health Care Centre, Barsha Mall

- Uptown Mirdiff Medical Fitness Centre, Mirdiff

- Hatta Hospital

** Dubai's Parks and Resorts field hospital, run by Abu Dhabi hospital group Seha, continues to provide the Sinopharm vaccine.

Dubai residents on Abu Dhabi-issued visas can receive the Sinopharm shots there.

First receiver of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Dubai

First receiver of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Dubai

Are any other vaccines available in the UAE?

Yes. Abu Dhabi has rolled out China's Sinopharm vaccine to both Abu Dhabi residents and frontline workers across the Emirates.

Abu Dhabi, which hosted the largest Phase 3 trial of the Sinopharm vaccine on 31,000 people, continues to use it.

The government said the Phase 3 results showed it was 86 per cent effective and 100 per cent effective at preventing serious forms of Covid-19.

Abu Dhabi is also running a small scale Phase 3 trial of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine with 500 volunteers.

Can Dubai residents on Abu Dhabi visas get the Pfizer-BioNTech shot?

Not at this time. Dubai residents on Abu Dhabi visas are only eligible for the Sinopharm vaccine, a DHA official confirmed.

As stated above, they can receive the shots at Dubai Parks and Resorts near Jebel Ali or any Seha or VPS Healthcare centre in the capital.

You can book by calling Seha on 80050.

Do I have to take the vaccine?

No. As with most countries, the vaccine is voluntary. It is also entirely free.

I've signed up, what should I expect next?

- once you have registered on the DHA app or by calling 800 342 you will receive an SMS text message

- it will give you instructions and tips and an appointment to stick to. You should read the consent form and ensure you are aware of all the facts

- when you arrive at the health centre, on the day of your first shot, a medic will check your vital signs and general health. Make sure you inform them about any allergies, medical history such as diabetes and if you're pregnant or plan to get pregnant within the next three months

- you will receive the first dose of the vaccine, which is a single injection into the upper arm muscle

- you need to wait at the clinic for 20 minutes after that to ensure you have no immediate reaction

- you will receive an SMS 15 minutes after you have finished your inoculation. The SMS will provide details of your vaccination certificate and the date and time for the second dose 21 days later

epa08906838 A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Zabeel Health Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 27 December 2020. The Gulf emirate of Dubai has started to give the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to people on 23 December 2020.  EPA/ALI HAIDER
A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech at Zabeel Health Centre in Dubai on 27 December, 2020. Ali Haider / EPA

What do I do next?

First of all, remember that a single shot does not give you immunity. You must return 21 days later for the second.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the shot was 52 per cent effective after one shot and 95 per cent after the second.

One week after that, at the 28th day, the vaccine should be effective, having generated antibodies in the vast majority of people.

It is possible to get an antibody test to confirm this.

Remember, even if you have been vaccinated, by law masks must be worn in all public places and can only be removed while dining, swimming or undertaken strenuous exercise.

Are there side effects and if so what are they?

Most vaccines come with some temporary side effects, as anyone who has taken the annual flu shot or the yellow fever injection can attest to.

Dubai Health Authority said, though not common, that the following symptoms could be seen in the first week:

- fatigue and headaches

- fever

- pain, swelling or redness at the injection-site

- joint pain, muscle pain and shivering

- vomiting and diarrhoea

According to a US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) report, as of December 19, 112,807 people had received the vaccine.

Of these, 3,150 - or 2.8 per cent - had suffered "health impact events", listed as unable to perform daily activities, taking time off work or seeing a doctor as a precaution.

Just six cases were recorded of anaphylactic shock, with no fatalities.

The Dubai regulator urged those with side effects to take paracetamol and rest but to contact its bank of telemedicine doctors if symptoms persist.

I've had Covid-19 before and recovered. Can I take the vaccine?

Yes, but you need to take the vaccine at least three months after the date that you tested positive.

It is worth noting that the body develops antibodies after getting Covid-19; therefore, the chances for reinfection for recovered patients is already very low.

I've recently had to flu shot, can I still get the vaccine?

Yes, you just have to wait four weeks before taking the Covid-19 shot.

I've already received one type of vaccine, can I take another?

No, it is not safe to take different vaccines nor would it help protect you against the virus any further.

Am I exempt from taking a PCR test for travel purposes if I've taken the vaccine?

No, you are not exempt. For the time being, everyone is required to follow policies and regulations that are related to Covid-19 testing.