UAE vaccine take-up by public 'higher than expected', says top health official

Good progress boosts hopes of reaching herd immunity and a return to normal life soon

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Related: How the UAE, Bahrain and Israel topped the global vaccine push

Vaccine take-up in the UAE is higher than initially forecast, adding to hopes that the country could hit a level of herd immunity soon.

Dr Farida Al Hosani, a federal health spokeswoman, gave her assessment at an online debate on Tuesday night.

“We are seeing good progress on a daily basis," she told the event, organised by the Atlantic Council think tank.

"We conducted a couple of surveys to see the acceptance of the community and based on this, we rolled out the campaign.

"We could see the level of acceptance from the beginning was good – higher than expected."

As of February 1, just under 35 doses had been administered for every 100 people – second only to Israel with 57.6 and followed by the UK at 14.4 and Bahrain at 9.6 doses per 100 people.

It is estimated that nearly one fifth of the country's population has received some protection against the virus.

The vaccine is entirely voluntary, but long queues were seen at walk-in vaccine centres, while there are waiting lists of several weeks for advance appointments.

The evident demand has encouraged officials to estimate that 50 per cent of the population could be vaccinated by late March.

There were local and global vaccine shortages, particularly of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots. But on Tuesday, 200,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Dubai from a vaccine lab in India, with more expected.

Dr Al Hosani said the government hopes to develop the country's drug-making abilities to manufacture its own vaccine doses in the near future.

As The National revealed last month, UAE authorities and Abu Dhabi medical company G42 secured a deal to make the Sinopharm vaccine under licence from China, although it will be some time before production is under way.

"We are not a vaccine manufacturer and we are building up capacity for future manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccine as well," Dr Al Hosani said.

“We are engaged in discussions with other countries on how to support with logistics parts of the vaccine as the UAE has strong infrastructure, strong international connectivity and storage facilities.

"We are already a regional centre for many pharmaceutical vaccines for commercial use."

Dr Al Hosani spoke to delegates and viewers alongside Dr Manaf Al Qahtani, from the Bahrain National Taskforce for Combating Coronavirus, and Dr Shoshy Goldberg, chief nursing officer from Israel's Ministry of Health.

She said the three countries had fared better than many major economies in tackling cases and introducing the vaccine.

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