Saudis 'proud' of coronavirus vaccination strategy

Over 300,000 people have signed up for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the kingdom

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As millions line up to receive coronavirus vaccines around the world, Saudi Arabian nationals and expatriates told The National they are feeling hopeful for the future.

The kingdom began rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 16 last year, with Heath Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah receiving one of the first jabs. The Ministry of Health said 178,000 people have been vaccinated so far.

The kingdom has ordered three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, due to arrive by the end of May this year. Vaccines are being delivered at specialist clinics in Jeddah and Riyadh.

Over 300,000 citizens and residents have signed up to be vaccinated through the Saudi app, the Ministry of Health said.

Saud Baeshen, 32, said his 60-year-old mother and 67-year-old father had received the vaccine and the process was easy.

“They registered themselves for the vaccines and got it early last week as they’re old and fall in the most vulnerable category,” he said.

“My parents have already booked a ticket to travel in April because of the vaccine and flights opening up for us. We are really proud of the country’s efforts in managing these extremely hard times and making it easier for their citizens.”

Expatriates who don’t have access to vaccines in their home countries say they have chosen to stay in Saudi Arabia and receive the inoculation, even though borders have reopened.

"I don't feel safe going back to Lebanon," Farah Ali, a 30-year-old Lebanese national told The National.

“I have five people in my family who have Covid-19 and they are suffering. We don’t have vaccines yet and I would not want to endanger my family.”

Ms Ali said she is hoping to get the vaccine but is willing to wait for it to be handed out to the elderly and more vulnerable.

I don't feel safe going back to Lebanon

Jabs will be given to Saudi Arabia’s 34 million people in phases. The first stage is for people most exposed and vulnerable to the disease, and the second and third stages will target those over 50 before the vaccine is made available to the wider public.

“Most Lebanese families are refusing to go back until things get better and in any case, we all want to get vaccinated here because of the efficient way Saudi has handled [coronavirus] so far.”

Farhan Khan, 28, said he had told his parents in India not to take a vaccine as he distructed the system in his home country.

“To be honest, the cases there are out of control, people are out with no restrictions or penalties for not wearing masks nor are they socially distancing,” he said.

“I trust the government here more as I have seen the way they are handling the crisis. The services and clinics here are clean, fast and efficient. So if I do get vaccinated I would do it here and not in my home country.”

Health workers in the kingdom say they are confident more people, including younger citizens, will come forward to take the vaccine.

“We have seen a great interest from youth who want to take the vaccines but that is only possible once we tend to the most vulnerable,” said Omar Shalaby, a resident doctor at a government hospital in Jeddah.

In a press conference on Sunday, the Saudi Health Ministry announced cases are down 97.6 percent since the peak in June 2020.

Saudi Arabia reported 117 new infections on Sunday, with 166 new recoveries reported, raising the total number of cases to 263,809. Over 6000 people have died.