Volunteers for Covid-19 vaccine trial share experience at Abu Dhabi facility

Volunteers say they are happy to help speed up the development of a vaccine and give back to the UAE

Volunteers for a clinical trial to test a Covid-19 vaccine in the UAE said participating in the exercise was the least they could do for a country that had given them so much.

During a visit to Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, where Phase 3 of testing is being held, volunteers said they were keen to be involved in the development of a vaccine that would help return life to normal.

One volunteer, 41, was one of the hundreds who went in for initial testing last week. Volunteers must be aged between 18 to 60 and meet specific health requirements to be eligible for the trial.

She said she wanted to volunteer to help speed up the development of a vaccine that could treat the virus and allow industries to recover.

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At the end, we are doing this for the UAE and for the world as a whole

"My husband works in aviation, and aviation is being hit hard by Covid-19," she said.

"If I can help with the vaccine and it being developed and everyone having access, that would be good."

The mother of three said she was keen for a vaccine to be developed as soon as possible.

“We just want to see the end of this virus," she said.

Another volunteer, 26, who visited Adnec on Thursday, said her mother and brother also took part in the trial to make sure she did not feel nervous.

"At the end, we are doing this for the UAE and for the world as a whole," she said.

“This is the least I can do for my country.

“If I can help then why not? We are in safe hands in the UAE. I know that if I develop any symptoms I will be taken care of."

Phase 3 of testing for an inactive vaccine, which contains a killed version of the virus, was initially only being conducted in Abu Dhabi but has since been expanded to Sharjah to widen the pool for volunteers.

Thousands of volunteers signed up to be involved in the UAE's trial but not all were eligible because they did not meet criteria for the testing. Eligible volunteers must have no pre-existing health conditions, including asthma, cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease or malignant tumours. They should not have experienced a fever, dry cough, fatigue, nasal obstruction or a runny nose for at least 14 days before they took the first shot.

As of August 6, more than 5,000 volunteers had been administered the first of two vaccinations they will receive over 28 days. At least 15,000 volunteers are required for the trial.

The vaccine is being developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm. The UAE is involved through an agreement with technology company Group 42.

Phase 1 and 2 of the trials were conducted in China, where all volunteers developed antibodies against the deadly virus.

The Emirates was chosen as the location for the penultimate stage of testing for its diversity.

Dr Nawal Al Kaabi, chief medical officer at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and chairwoman of the National Covid-19 Clinical Management Committee, said very few of the volunteers had experienced side effects from the first shot of the vaccine. These included headaches and mild pain around the area of injection.

"There is a small percentage of volunteers who developed common side effects that we usually see with other vaccines," she said.

On inoculation, volunteers are asked to wait at the centre for 30 minutes while medics monitor them for side effects or allergic reactions.

The volunteers must return to the centre after 21 days for their second vaccine. Another 14 days later, the volunteer will be checked for antibodies against Covid-19.

Volunteers are being encouraged to join and have been exempted from further Covid-19 testing outside the bounds of the study. Currently, a negative Covid-19 test is required to enter Abu Dhabi emirate but volunteers are now exempt from this.

“They can enter the emirate without the need for a Covid test. This is because they are regularly checked during the course of the trial,” Dr Al Kaabi said.

Despite the strict criteria, Adnec, where volunteers go to register, was at nearly full capacity on Thursday. The centre can register up to 1,000 volunteers per day.

The World Health Organisation-recognised trial began on July 16 and is expected to last up to six months.

To volunteer for the Abu Dhabi trial, register your details at 4humanity.ae or call 02 819 1111.