Abu Dhabi: The final verdict may still be pending, but health care professionals who have received the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine currently on trial in the UAE say they now feel safer going about their duties.
Still vigilant about precautionary measures like mask wearing, they told Gulf News that they remain hopeful about the chances of the vaccine being proven effective against the viral disease that has resulted in a global pandemic.
“The only way to fight COVID-19 is by means of a vaccine. So when I had the chance to register for one, I was ready. I don’t have any pre-existing conditions, and I feel like I have to be safe and healthy for my twin children back home,” said Antu Joseph, 32, an Indian nurse at LLH Hospital in Abu Dhabi. Joseph received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine in August, and said she had not experienced any side effects. “I was aware it was a trial, but I still feel much more reassured going in to work and dealing with patients now. And I am hopeful that we hear positive news about the efficacy of the vaccine any day now,” she added.
The UAE kicked off trials in July for the COVID-19 inactivated vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical giant, Sinopharm China National Biotec Group. The tests were led by the health care wing of technology firm, Group 42, under the supervision of the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and the Department of Health (DoH), Abu Dhabi’s health care sector regulator.
Sinopharm had reported that the vaccine had successfully generated COVID-19 antibodies in all volunteers during the first two phases of testing in China. During these trials, two doses of the vaccine had been given about three to four weeks apart. And as a gesture of reassurance, the DoH’s top two officials — the chairman, Abdulla Al Hamed, and the undersecretary, Dr Jamal Al Kaabi — became the first two volunteers in the UAE.
Within six weeks, more than 31,000 UAE residents had volunteered for the trials, and registrations were finally closed at the end of August. Then, on September 15, the UAE leadership granted regulatory approval for the emergency use of the vaccine for frontline workers across a variety of sectors. Since then, numerous health care professionals, airport staff and senior executives have also received the vaccine.
Optimistic but careful
Dr Sayyed Munir Pasha, 45, a specialist radiologist at LLH Hospital, was one of the earliest people to volunteer for the vaccine trials, and received his first dose on August 1. Even then, he had said that he was optimistic about the vaccine, and that he was proud to have been part of this historic trial. “At the same time, I am being just as careful as I have always been, especially as I do work with COVID-19 patients from time to time,” he said.
Dr Pasha had also urged his colleagues and friends to register for the trials. “The quicker a vaccine is available against COVID-19, the quicker we can go back to normal, and provide relief to thousands of people across the globe. And the more people that volunteer for these trials, the quicker the developers can test the vaccine,” he had said.
Safer around patients
Dr Mohammed Elnaagar, 46, a specialist urologist at Burjeel Royal Hospital Al Ain, had actually driven down to the capital city for his shots and blood tests. And even though it took quite a bit of commitment on his part, the doctor said he was happy to do his part. “I’ve completed both shots, and the follow-up blood tests, and I certainly feel safer when working with patients,” the father-of-five said.
In the UAE, two strains of the vaccine, and a placebo, were randomly given to volunteers in the double-blinded study. Even as they received their shots, volunteers were reminded to continue to follow all safety precautions, including wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.
Dr Omar Al Hammadi, official UAE government spokesperson, emphasised this during a media briefing this month, saying that the trial vaccine itself “doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is far from infection”. He explained that even after taking the second dose of the vaccine, volunteers will need a period of up to four weeks to enhance their immunity. Afterwards, a volunteer’s immune systems will only protect them, not other people like their families and colleagues.
As trial results continue to be analysed, volunteers remain buoyant about the vaccine. Many are also excited to see the vaccine produced and distributed across the UAE once it is approved, as announced during the media briefing at the launch of the trials.