Vaccinated people can still spread virus, says UAE health official

People who have had the Covid-19 vaccine warned against complacency and urged to maintain mask wearing and physical distancing

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People vaccinated against Covid-19 can still contract and spread the virus so must continue to be cautious, a UAE health official said.

Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokeswoman for the UAE’s government health authorities, said vaccinated people should still be as “rigorous” in their hand washing, mask wearing and physical distancing to protect themselves and others.

"Although the risk is less, there is still a risk that we should not underestimate," she told The National.

“Vaccinated people might still be able to transmit the disease to other family members or work colleagues, who may develop complications, particularly if they did not take the vaccine.”

With cases sharply rising across the country, authorities increased the frequency of testing needed for vaccinated people to be eligible for exemptions – related to international travel, quarantine and exposure to a positive case – from once a month to once a week.

Some might be reluctant and I advise them to reconsider. They have two choices: to get the infection and be prone to complications, or take the vaccine

Vaccinated people are entitled to some exemptions once they take a PCR test, 28 days after receiving their second dose. Their eligibility is indicated by a circled E on the Al Hosn app. This disappears a week after testing and can be renewed on undergoing another PCR test.

Dr Al Hosani said the increase in testing was not related to vaccine efficacy.

“The vaccine is effective and results have been shared,” she said.

“The weekly testing is only to keep the E status but there is no routine testing recommended and it will vary based on work requirements.”

The Sinopharm vaccine is available on a free, voluntary basis for every adult Emirati and UAE resident in the country. Local trials have indicated it is 86 per cent effective against Covid-19, while wider tests by the Chinese pharmaceutical company that developed it indicated 79 per cent efficacy.

Local authorities have said the vaccine is 100 per cent effective at preventing severe cases of Covid-19.

“The risk of getting complications goes down to almost zero if you get the vaccine. In other words, the people who took the vaccine are at very low risk from developing complications,” Dr Al Hosani said

Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokeswoman for the UAE health sector. Courtesy: National Media Council
Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokeswoman for the UAE health sector. Courtesy: National Media Council

“Based on studies, we have seen that it still very important for individuals who take the vaccine to continue precautionary measures, like any other member of the community. They need to continue wearing masks and keep their distance.”

She said health authorities and researchers were now studying antibody response, in particular how long it might last.

Antibody tests are available at public and private hospitals for people who have had the virus or been vaccinated to check whether they have developed immunity.

“It will be the doctor’s decision if the person will need additional doses [of the vaccine],” Dr Al Hosani said.

Last week, the UAE lowered the minimum age limit for people to be vaccinated from 18 to 16 to encourage more people to be immunised.

“The vaccine is safe for 16 year olds but priority remain to be for the elderly and people with chronic illnesses,” she said.

To help the country in its recovery and prevent more cases, Dr Al Hosani advised people not to delay being vaccinated.

“Time is critical as we see a rise in cases. We want to cover as much as possible. Some individuals might be reluctant and I advise them to reconsider because they have two choices: to get the infection and be prone to complications or take the vaccine.”

She said the increase in daily cases in the Emirates could be seen in almost every country and was down to the holiday season and the emergence of more contagious variants.

“The third reason is individuals not following precautionary measures,” she said.

Asked whether vaccinated people were acting with a false sense of security, she said it was too soon to say.

“It is too early to assume that people who took the vaccine were infected,” she said.

“It will take time until we see the effect of the vaccine. We are close, with more than two million vaccinated and 21.8 [doses] per 100 people, which is a good success in one month.”