Haneen Issa owns a salon in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and business has been steady since the country reopened in the summer following COVID-19 restrictions. That means that she and her employees are interacting with many clients every day as they come to visit the salon. So when the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines became available in the UAE, Issa didn’t hesitate.
“I have encouraged all my staff to get vaccinated because in a way, we see 20-, 30-plus clients a day from all walks of life,” Issa said. “So just as a precaution for me and my staff, we have gotten vaccinated.”
The UAE has vaccinated
over 50 percent of its population, thanks to early widespread availability of the Chinese-produced Sinopharm vaccine and an organized nationwide effort to get all residents vaccinated. The close economic and diplomatic relationship between China and the UAE allowed the Sinopharm vaccine to be available in large quantities early, and the UAE also hosted vaccine trials.
Dubai has relied almost exclusively on the Sinopharm vaccine, with a comparatively small supply of Pfizer going to health care workers, the elderly and people with chronic conditions. Each emirate has run its rollout slightly differently, with Abu Dhabi using more of the Pfizer vaccine.
Certain regulations have incentivized vaccination. Many employees who are working onsite are required to get a polymerase chain reaction test every week if they have not been vaccinated, and failure to do so can result in fines for the company. Unvaccinated people who contract COVID-19 and are unable to work cannot take sick days and instead must draw from their annual vacation days. If no vacation days are pending, the time off is deducted from the employee’s salary.
Issa led by example. Many of her employees didn’t want to get the vaccine, “but I think when they saw that I took it, they were a bit more comfortable,” she said.
For many people, getting their first shot has been easy. Issa registered with her family, including her brother, sister-in-law and her mother, to receive the vaccine.
Chandni Chugh, a PR account manager in Dubai, was able to register for her first dose of the vaccine in January with her resident identification card and was able to complete the entire process of receiving the shot within an hour and a half. She appreciated the efficient system the UAE developed for vaccination.
The process that UAE authorities have implemented includes giving the right kind of information and making it available digitally, says Chugh. “They are doing it without much of a hassle,” she noted. “It’s quite a streamlined process and that’s what I liked most about it.”
With a Shortage of Doses, a Distribution Pivot
Others are still waiting to get vaccinated. Khaled Reda, a consultant at P3A Consulting in the UAE, was initially hesitant about the Sinopharm vaccine and wanted to wait and see how the initial rollout went. “There was a bit of concern because in comparison with the Western vaccines, there is less transparency about how it was developed, how it was tested and so on,” Reda said.
As the vaccinations rolled out, Reda was reassured. “Now that the vaccine is officially out, I haven’t heard anything to decrease my confidence about it. All I’m seeing is that it’s effective,” Reda said. But by waiting, he has run into some complications. Due to recent shortages in the supply of doses, the UAE announced
at the beginning of February that it would be vaccinating only elderly and at-risk people for six weeks.
Nonetheless, Reda is proud of Dubai’s vaccine rollout. “Having a smaller population helps you in terms of rollout. But nevertheless, from being here on the ground, I’m very impressed with how things were handled. The leadership is on the ball,” Reda said.
Issa thinks other countries can take some lessons away from Dubai’s example.
Widespread Vaccination Eventually Will Allow Face-to-Face Meetings
Though the quick and efficient rollout will help control the pandemic, no one knows when life will get back to normal, if ever. Chugh is optimistic that the vaccination campaign can only help. “With regards to businesses, I see that they will go back to normal, there will be a quicker recovery of businesses and the economy if more and more people get vaccinated,” she said.
Reda believes that in-person interactions are important for his consultancy work, so he’s hopeful the vaccination will eventually allow more of that to take place. “At the moment the vaccination does not lift any of the restrictions that are in place for the individuals; you still have to wear a mask, you still have to abide by all the rules and restrictions that are in place,” Reda said. “But what I’m personally hoping for, and aspiring for, is that once enough people are vaccinated, then that long-sought herd immunity in whatever shape or form manifests itself. I think restrictions will start to be eased. And I’m very much looking forward to the time to again start working face-to-face with people.”
Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul.