Dubai is providing Pfizer, Sinopharm Covid vaccines to its residents freed from cost

A traveler goes through immigration control by going through a “smart tunnel” at Dubai International Airport.

GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

The commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, will make the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine available to its residents free of charge from Wednesday, the government said. The news comes after the UAE began offering the Sinopharm vaccine developed in China earlier this month.

The first batch of the emirate’s Pfizer vaccines, which were 95% effective in late-stage clinical trials, landed at Dubai International Airport in Brussels late Tuesday evening.

An official Covid-19 vaccination campaign is currently underway in the country of the Middle East. In this campaign, the Dubai Health Authority will provide the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which was recently approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration and registered by the UAE’s Department of Health and Prevention, “the Dubai Media Office said in an explanation.

A medical worker wearing disposable gloves takes a man’s temperature at a coronavirus drive-through screening center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on April 1, 2020.

Francois Nel | Getty Images

In the first phase of the rollout, four main groups will be addressed, with the first group comprising Emiratis and residents aged 60 and over, people with chronic illnesses and the disabled.

The second group is made up of frontline health workers, the third is made up of other key workers, and the fourth is made up of members of the general public who want to be vaccinated. The recordings will be available at six Dubai Health Authority facilities and by appointment.

“Emirates is proud to ship the first batch of Pfizer vaccines for Covid-19 for the Dubai Health Authority in the UAE. We were honored to have these vaccines shipped for free on our flight,” said Emirates Airline and Group CEO Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said in a statement.

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which was being developed by American and German pharmaceutical companies, was approved for use and began rollout in the UK and US earlier this month. This week it was approved by the EU Medicines Agency.

The United Arab Emirates recorded 195,878 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 642 deaths on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The United Arab Emirates underwent one of the strictest lockdowns in the world in March and April, followed by a gradual reopening with Dubai being one of the first tourist destinations to reopen its doors to international tourists in July. Economically, the pandemic hit the country – particularly tourism and traffic-dependent Dubai – hard, and S&P forecast in October that the emirate’s economy would shrink 11% this year.

But the emirate is now fully open again, with restaurants and beach bars brought back to life and new government initiatives designed to attract tourists and out-of-the-way workers.

“I’m really glad I got it”: The UAE and the Sinopharm vaccine

The UAE began offering China-developed Sinopharm vaccine free to residents earlier this month after approving emergency use for frontline workers in September based on an “interim analysis conducted by Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group “declared effective for 86%. CNBG). The Gulf state of 10 million people began phase 3 human trials of the experimental vaccine in July, one of ten countries that have been tested.

The Sinopharm vaccine is made with dead or weakened coronavirus, a common method behind decades of vaccine development, including smallpox, flu, and polio vaccinations. However, immunologists outside the country expressed concern about how little information the manufacturer was making publicly available about its studies and results.

In the announcement by the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Health about the effectiveness of the Sinopharm vaccine in early December, the parameters of the studies such as the number of patients who were given the vaccine dose versus placebos were not explained in detail, and no side effects were mentioned, that occurred in patients. Sinopharm did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum reported in early November that he received the vaccine against the Chinese study, tweeted a picture of himself and praised the work of the medical staff behind the effort.

Liliana Martinez, a 29-year-old American security manager who lives in Dubai, received the Sinopharm vaccine over the weekend.

“The process went really smoothly … I felt minimal to no side effects from the vaccine,” Martinez told CNBC. She described long lines of people waiting in their cars to be stabbed at a local field hospital in Dubai and a multi-step process with multiple health and personal information checks along the way, but said the process was generally well organized. She was told she would receive a text message telling her when to return for a second dose.

The evening after her vaccination, “I had a little pain in my arm and since then I’ve felt a bit stiff and had a very small sore throat that was almost imperceptible,” said Martinez. “Overall, I’m very glad I got it. I just heard the news that the Pfizer vaccine will also be available for free. I think it’s great that the UAE population has options.”

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