The UAE has officially registered China's Sinopharm vaccine for use after Phase 3 trials found it was 86 per cent effective against coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention on Wednesday said it had approved a request from the Chinese drug maker "in a major step towards combating the global pandemic".
An analysis by the ministry and Department of Health Abu Dhabi also showed the vaccine to have 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".
"Furthermore, the analysis shows no serious safety concerns", it added.
The Sinopharm vaccine was widely trialled in the UAE in the summer in a campaign involving 31,000 people.
It was created by the research group Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm, one of China's biggest drug makers.
It was granted emergency use status in the UAE in September and has since been given to frontline medical workers, government health officials, emergency service personnel, and a number of Cabinet ministers including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
Officials said they had already begun a post-authorisation safety and efficacy study to confirm what was found in the Phase 3 trial.
"These ongoing studies show similar safety and efficacy profiles as the interim analysis", a statement added.
The ministry said the official registration of the Sinopharm vaccine "leads the way to comprehensively protecting the population and responsibly opening the economy".
Sinopharm has yet to officially release its Phase 3 findings and the figures published by the UAE on Wednesday are the first indicator of the vaccine's effectiveness.
An efficacy of 86 per cent compares favourably to the four vaccines whose Phase 3 results have been published: the US-German made Pfizer/BioNTech at 95 per cent, US-made Moderna at 94 per cent, Britian's Oxford/AstraZeneca at 70 per cent and Russia's Sputnik V at 95 per cent (the latter is yet to be independently verified).
Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which require super-cold storage, Sinopharm’s can be stored in regular refrigerators. This makes them easier to transport over long distances and will be attractive to governments in the developing world. Morocco has already ordered 10 million doses from Sinopharm.
Phase 3 trials are ongoing in Egypt, Bahrain, Peru and Argentina.
Abu Dhabi vaccine roll-out
From this week, the vaccine is being offered on a voluntary basis in Abu Dhabi health centres and clinics run by the capital's public hospital group Seha.
Details of a nationwide roll-out are yet to be announced.
Anyone calling Seha’s free customer service number on 80050 hears a pre-recorded message saying, “dear customer, we would like to inform you that the Covid-19 vaccine is available in Seha primary healthcare centres,” inviting them to book an appointment.
Residents receive one vaccine shot, followed by a second three weeks later.
In the weeks following the second shot, they are tested for antibodies to determine if they are protected against Covid-19.
Increase in public confidence
Dr Madhumita Kumar, head of infection control at Aster Hospitals in Dubai, which handled dozens of seriously ill Covid-19 patients at the height of the pandemic, said public confidence would rise following the release of the findings.
“An effective and safe vaccine is the only way the world can confidently go back to pre-covid times," she said.
“We now believe the Sinopharm vaccine appears safe. How effective this vaccine really is depends on more transparent release of data of the studies done.
“This will increase the confidence of the public to come forward and take the vaccine. And only if everyone gets vaccinated can we actually control this pandemic."
But until the population is vaccinated, she urged the public to continue to be cautious and follow the rules.
"This is definitely significant for the UAE. However, we should continue using masks and practice social distancing and personal hygiene."
'New year is coming with new hope'
Vaccine trial volunteer Father Darick D’Souza, from St Joseph's Church in Abu Dhabi, said Wednesday's news marked a turning point in the fight against the outbreak here.
“This is the hope for the normal to come back," said Fr D'Souza, 41, who received two shots in October and November during the trials and felt no side effects.
"It’s a positive sign. If vaccination begins, the new year is coming with new hope.
“This is the need of the hour. If the vaccine has been passed for use, then people should not hesitate to take it if we want to come back to normal. We have to beat the virus.”