The United Arab Emirates is offering free Covid-19 vaccinations to all citizens and residents as it pushes ahead in the global race to achieve nationwide immunity against the coronavirus.
A vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm and registered for use by Emirati authorities this month is available at public and private clinics, and field hospitals across the Gulf federation’s seven emirates.
While other countries are vaccinating according to age and vulnerability, the UAE, which in September approved emergency use of the jab for frontline medical staff, has expanded access to all adults across the population of 1m nationals and more than 8m foreign residents.
Dubai, the country’s tourism and commercial hub, has only one public location for vaccinations so far, a temporary field hospital in a theme park complex. Security guards said they admitted more than 1,200 cars a day last week, some of which queued for hours to access the facility.
Inside, government medics were administering more than a thousand doses a day on a first-come, first served basis, with priority given to those at higher risk of severe symptoms.
“The field hospital is incredible, nicer than most hospitals back in the UK,” said British expatriate Trina Mole, who runs Hanz & Oley, a Dubai-based pet supplies business. “The atmosphere was great, really friendly — I had expected a stressed environment, but maybe everyone had found some relief that we finally got a way forward out of this pandemic.”
In Abu Dhabi and other emirates, multiple state-run health centres and private-sector hospitals and clinics are offering the jab.
The UAE — a small, wealthy country — has limited the spread and impact of the virus thanks in part to its large, relatively young expatriate population and broad compliance with restrictions among the population. The country has one of the highest per-capita testing rates.
Dubai imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in April but gradually opened its outward-facing economy from May. Abu Dhabi maintained tougher restrictions than other emirates, erecting a border through which no one could pass without a negative test. The capital earlier this month said it would also resume normal activities ahead of the new year.
While the vaccination programme is voluntary, the government is encouraging the population to take the jab. Some residents are reluctant to get vaccinated and some western officials reported anxiety among their nationals about potential long-term side effects of the shot.
The Sinopharm vaccine was tested on 31,000 volunteers in the UAE and found to be 86 per cent effective, according the UAE government. But no further data or analysis has been released about the vaccine or the trial process. Information released on the vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfzier/BioNTech and AstraZeneca, all under review or approved in the UK, the US or EU, has been far more detailed.
Efforts are under way to encourage take-up of the vaccine. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, tweeted a picture of himself being inoculated in November to his 10m followers
UAE Team Emirates, a professional cycling team, has said it plans to vaccinate its staff and riders, who include this year’s Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar, at a January training camp.
And in one government office, staff have been told to wear a pin showing their vaccination status after the jab is administered in their workplace from this week. Employees yet to be vaccinated will wear a yellow pin; those have received one dose will wear a red pin; and those who completed the two-dose course will wear a green pin.