The UAE will allow people fully vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine to receive a booster shot to ensure "maximum protection" against Covid-19.
Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokeswoman for the country's health sector, said the additional shot would be administered six months after the second.
The booster will be available to all eligible citizens and residents, although priority will be given to the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.
As Sinopharm was approved for use in the Emirates on December 9, booster doses are likely to begin in July.
A limited number of third doses have already been administered in the Emirates.
“The door has been opened for the public to receive an additional, supportive dose of Sinopharm for people who have completed more than six months since the second dose,” said Dr Al Hosani.
Who will require a booster dose?
Dr Sawsan Humaida is a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital in Abu Dhabi, where some third doses have already been administered.
She said not all people fully vaccinated with Sinopharm will need the third dose and advised people to take an antibody test first.
“A third booster dose will not be required by all, it depends on the immune response of each patient," she said.
“When we give the second dose of the vaccine, it is recommended to test blood after three weeks to check the antibody level against the Covid-19 virus.
“If it is adequate, that person will not require a third dose, but if it is a low level then a booster will be required."
Dr Humaida said an antibody test to ascertain whether a third dose would be beneficial would be a decision for each individual to take.
“Up to now, these antibody tests are not covered by health insurance so they are purely optional for the individual," she said.
“Hopefully this will change so more people are able to take this antibody test so we can do more research and understand how the vaccine is working.
“Covid-19 is still a new virus, so everything we are doing is under research."
Antibody test is cheap and effective
“Antibody tests cost about Dh65, and is a simple blood sample that will return results in about three hours," said Dr Humaida.
“The results are 100 per cent accurate. An antibody reading above 300 arbitrary units per millilitre is unusual, but we would expect to see any reading greater than 100 after a second dose would give adequate protection.
“We are testing specifically for the antibodies created against the coronavirus.
"The higher the value, the better response to the vaccine, and the better immune response," she said.
“These immunological tests or quantitative serology tests have been used for decades and are reliable.
“It is advisable for vulnerable groups who have had a second vaccine dose to do this antibody test to check if they need a booster.”
Third dose to ensure 'safety of all'
Walid Zaher, chief research officer of G42 Healthcare, the company responsible for distributing the Sinopharm vaccine in the UAE, spoke in March about the benefits of the additional dose.
He said some people did not create enough antibodies to protect themselves against Covid-19 – a phenomenon “which is expected with all vaccines”.
Dr Zaher emphasised that very few people required a booster.
“It's a very small number compared to the millions who have received the vaccine already,” he said.
“The main purpose here is to ensure the safety of everyone, and that was already achieved. It happens that some people will not respond as well as other people."
Global health sector gears up for booster shots
Several countries are preparing to give Covid-19 booster shots between six and 12 months after people were vaccinated.
Bahrain is to start issuing its third Covid-19 vaccine doses six months after the second shot.
The US, Israel and the UK are among other nations putting procedures in place to offer additional vaccines to protect against a possible winter wave.
The US said it is preparing for the possibility that a third booster will be required between nine and 12 months after people complete the first vaccine course.
Israel, which executed one of the world’s most comprehensive vaccine drives solely using the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, bought 36 million Moderna vaccines in case boosters are required.
And the UK, which has fully vaccinated a third of all adults, aims to begin issuing boosters in the autumn.