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Covid-19: UAE rolling out Chinese vaccine to all citizens and residents

Emirates was one of three Arab countries that began vaccinating last week, along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
Dubai's ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum receiving an experimental Covid-19 vaccine, 2 November 2020 (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates said it is rolling out a free Covid-19 vaccination to all its residents and citizens, after initially starting to offer a Chinese vaccine in Abu Dhabi on 14 December.

The UAE was one of three Arab countries that began vaccinating last week, along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Some one million Emiratis and eight million foreign residents live in the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

China’s Sinopharm vaccine was registered in the UAE early in December, and it was approved by Emirati health authorities for use in hospitals and clinics.

The Chinese vaccine has been undergoing third-phase trials in the Emirates since July, and it was approved for emergency use for healthcare workers in September. Sinopharm was tested on 31,000 volunteers and UAE authorities said it showed an 86 percent efficacy rate.

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China has four vaccine products in the final stages of development, three of which - including Sinopharm - use an inactivated form of the novel coronavirus to boost immunity.

This means they only need to be refrigerated and can be easily distributed, compared to jabs developed by rivals Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, which have reported efficacy of 95 percent and 94 percent, respectively, but which need to be transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius and minus 20 degrees Celsius. 

However, Chinese drugmakers have not released any data on their vaccines' safety or efficacy.

Two vaccines have undergone third-phase trials in the UAE: the Sinopharm project and Russia's Sputnik V, named after the Soviet-era satellite.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said in November that he had been given an experimental Covid-19 vaccine, joining other top UAE officials to take part in the trials.

Last week, Bahrain said that it had approved the Sinopharm vaccine and had launched a registration scheme online for citizens and residents.

Saudi Arabia last week became one of the first Arab countries to start vaccinating people with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

Qatar, Kuwait and Oman are also expecting to receive their first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments this week.