The United Arab Emirates has launched Covid-19 vaccinations in the capital Abu Dhabi, health officials said on Monday, days after the jab was approved by Chinese drug giant Sinopharm.
The Gulf-rich nation is one of the first countries to start large-scale inoculation, after Britain became the first to launch a campaign using a vaccine by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
The Gulf countries of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, where studies in the third phase of the Sinopharm vaccine were conducted, have officially registered it for public use after it was previously approved for emergency use by front-line health workers.
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Residents of the capital can book an appointment through the Abu Dhabi Health Services (SEHA) helpline.
“Residents can now book an appointment for the vaccine, free of charge,” an SEHA operator told AFP, local reports saying at least 45 hospitals and clinics were equipped with the vaccine.
Sinopharm – which uses an inactive form of the new coronavirus – is given in two doses, 21 days apart, according to SEHA.
The United Arab Emirates has so far reported more than 184,000 new cases of coronavirus, including 617 deaths.
China has four vaccines, including Sinopharm, in the final stages of development and is well advanced, with mass human tests in several countries, including Brazil, the UAE and Turkey.
But unlike vaccines developed by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, little information has been published on the safety or efficacy of Chinese vaccines.
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In Peru, clinical trials of a Sinopharm vaccine were discontinued after neurological problems were detected in a test volunteer.
Chinese retailers Sinovac and Sinopharm had pre-orders for less than 500 million doses by mid-November, according to data provided by London-based consultancy Airfinity – mostly in the countries that participated in the studies.
Meanwhile, the British AstraZeneca has pre-orders for 2.4 billion doses, and Pfizer for about half a billion orders.
Two vaccines were tested in the third phase in the United Arab Emirates – the Sinopharm and Sputnik-V project in Russia, named after the Soviet-era satellite.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Dubai leader, said in November that he had received an experimental coronavirus vaccine, joining other high-ranking officials in the United Arab Emirates to take part in the trials.