Sinopharm vaccine roll-out: UAE frontline medics relieved after months of uncertainty

Doctors say they can now continue life-saving work without putting their families at risk

Doctors in the UAE described their joy and relief after the Emirates officially registered China's Sinopharm vaccine for public use.

Relieved frontline workers vaccinated against Covid-19 said they can now continue life-saving work without putting their families at risk.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention on Wednesday said it had approved a request from the Chinese drugmaker "in a major step towards combating the global pandemic".

The vaccine was found to be 86 per cent effective against coronavirus in Phase 3 trials.

Taking this vaccine gives me more confidence to complete my hospital duties

Dr Lizzie John, an Indian ear, nose and throat specialist at NMC Royal Medical Centre in Al Karamah, Abu Dhabi, who took the vaccine on November 30 with her husband, 60, and daughter, 24, welcomed the decision to make the vaccine available to the public.

“I have been exposed to the virus many times, and had to take nine PCR tests because of my work,” she said.

“Taking this vaccine gives me more confidence to complete my hospital duties.

“I was more exposed than others, so I wanted to have it as soon as possible.”

Dr John, 58, will take the second dose of the vaccine on December 21.

Her husband, laparoscopic surgeon Dr Francis John Kennedy, had major heart surgery six months ago in India, but was also considered suitably fit to receive the vaccine.

“It is clearly very safe. My husband is a heart patient and he is fine,” Dr John said.

An analysis by the ministry and Department of Health Abu Dhabi showed the vaccine to have a 99 per cent "seroconversion rate", which relates to how antibodies are built up, and 100 per cent effectiveness in "preventing moderate and severe cases of the disease".

Dr Ragab Allam, an Egyptian cardiologist at Bareen International Hospital in Mohamed bin Zayed City, Abu Dhabi, took the Sinopharm vaccine on December 7.

“I was notified about taking the vaccine on the same day it was available,” said Dr Allam, 39.

“I was just two minutes away from MBZ City where it could be done, so I went straight there and took an appointment.

“There was a lot of information given, and a few consent documents to sign.

“They told us all about the potential side effects, and advised me not to panic if I felt fatigue or any other mild symptoms as this was normal.”

Dr Allam had taken the flu vaccine just six weeks ago but this did not prevent him from receiving the shot. He is booked in for a second dose on December 29.

He was under observation for 30 minutes after taking the shot.

Dr Allam was called two days later to check on his health and report any side effects.

“Everything was OK,” he said.

“I was quite tired and slept a lot after the vaccine.

“It gave me confidence to know government officials had already taken it.”

While details of a national campaign are yet to be announced, the vaccine is being offered on a voluntary basis in Abu Dhabi by the capital's public hospital group Seha.

In a summer campaign, 31,000 people took the jab in human trials, crucial to rolling out the vaccine on a wider scale.

A neurosurgeon who volunteered for those trials said the first roll-out to cover medics brought relief to thousands of frontline workers.

“We take all precautions when we are with patients but the thought is at the back of our mind,” said Dr Sharath Maila, a specialist neurosurgeon at Medeor Hospital in Dubai.

“We think what if we get infected, what happens to our family, children, parents when we go home?

“Those concerns are being eased with the vaccine. We can help patients even more confidently now.

“It is a great initiative that it is being given for those working in healthcare facilities first.”

Dr Maila, 43, said his wife and two sons would also take the Sinopharm vaccine.

The UAE authorisation of Sinopharm’s vaccine followed similar licensing arrangements and roll-out of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech in the UK.

But British regulators said people with severe allergies should not receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when two NHS staff members suffered an allergic reaction after being inoculated.

Patients will now be asked if they suffer from any allergies before they are given the shot.

Sinopharm’s 86 per cent efficacy compares well with the four other vaccines whose Phase 3 results have been published.

The US-German made Pfizer/BioNTech is 95 per cent effective, while the US-made Moderna is at 94 per cent.

Britain’s Oxford/AstraZeneca is at 70 per cent efficacy and Russia's Sputnik V at 95 per cent, although that is yet to be independently verified.

Dr Amaka Uzu, a family medicine consultant at Bareen International Hospital, has not yet taken the vaccine but looks forward to a brighter future for medics.

"We have the Covid-19 vaccine being made available to the public in different parts of the world," she said.

"That would mean cases should start to decline.

“We are looking forward to 2021 being a better year for everyone."

UAE officials getting the Sinopharm vaccine in pictures