WHO: inoculation against coronavirus 'morally mandatory' for frontline workers

New Covid-19 strains have spread to at least 10 Eastern Mediterranean countries, WHO regional director says

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Covid-19 vaccinations remain optional but it is “morally mandatory” for frontline workers to get inoculated,  a senior WHO figure said on Wednesday.

This is because of their exposure to the virus and contact with vulnerable members of society, such as children, the elderly and pregnant women, said Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean regional office, which is based in Cairo.

"Their refusal to take the vaccine is going to expose the person and those whom they serve to the risks of contracting the disease," said Dr Al Mandhari.

So far, eight countries in the region have rolled-out vaccination campaigns for their populations, while three coronavirus variants have spread globally.

At least 10 of the WHO's 22-member countries and territories in the Eastern Mediterranean region have recorded one or more of the new Covid-19 strains, Dr Richard Brennan, WHO regional emergency director, told The National at a virtual press conference. He did not name the countries.

"We suspect that there are more than 10," he said.

Cases in the region have now exceeded five million, Dr Al Mandhari said.

The WHO believes vaccinations that have received emergency-use listing – such as the American Pfizer-BioNTech and the British AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines – do not have long-term side effects.

This trust is based on two elements: the amount of information available on the disease and the duration of patient follow-up care, said Dr Yvan Hutin, WHO director of communicable diseases in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

“The trials are extremely large in the middle of pandemic… So we have a lot of information to analyse.

"Even though those trials have been completed in a short time, we have a huge amount of data to be able to assess the safety and efficacy of vaccines," he said.

Dr Hutin said historically, in the vast majority of cases, vaccines are known to show side effects within four weeks of being administered.

“Within four weeks, the window within which side effects occur is gone. And in the trials, there was follow-up for four weeks and after.

"So we have the information necessary to say that the vaccines are safe,” he said.

Despite being a “catastrophic” year, 2020 has resulted in a complete operational change in the medical sector, Dr Al Mandhari said.

This included the "remarkable achievement" of a 22-fold increase in the number of PCR laboratories in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The WHO’s Dubai logistics hub also played a vital role in distributing essential medical supplies, he said.

“Close to 440 shipments of medical supplies were delivered to 110 countries across all six WHO regions.

"This is a huge increase in operations compared to 2019, when the hub delivered 92 shipments of medical supplies to 22 countries across three WHO regions,” said Dr Al Mandhari.

Despite these achievements, Dr Al Mandhari said Covid-19 is "a long way off" from being under control.