The UAE and Bahrain offer third Sinopharm shots amid questions over vaccine effectiveness.
“An additional supportive dose of Sinopharm is now available to people who have received the vaccine previously and who have now completed more than six months since the second dose,” the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority tweeted on May 18th.
Bahrain’s National Medical Taskforce for Combatting the Coronavirus simultaneously announced “The opening of registration for a booster COVID-19 vaccine dose for the most vulnerable groups in Bahrain, at least 6 months after taking the second dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, for first responders, as well as citizens and residents above the age of 50, as well as those suffering from obesity, low immunity, or other underlying health conditions.”
The announcements come amid questions over Sinopharm’s efficacy and reports of Covid-19 reinfections among people who have received their two doses of the shot.
Developed by China’s state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (commonly referred to as Sinopharm), it is one of the country’s two main shots that have been administered to millions of people in China and elsewhere, particularly in the developing world.
The UAE’s vaccination campaign, one of the fastest in the world, has relied heavily on the Sinopharm shot, available to all residents and citizens since late 2020.
Efficacy of Sinopharm shots
The UAE government announced in December 2020 that an “interim analysis” conducted by the China National Biotec Group (a subsidiary of Sinopharm) of the vaccine’s phase 3 trials in Abu Dhabi found it to be 86% effective.
In the same month, China announced the vaccine as 79.34% effective based on what it said was “interim trial data.”
In a national case that’s raised more concerns, Seychelles, one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world, with roughly 60% of those vaccinated having received Sinopharm, is seeing a new surge of Covid cases among vaccinated residents.
Its health ministry in mid-May reported that more than a third of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the week to May 8 had been fully vaccinated.
In March, the UAE gave third doses of Sinopharm to “a small number” of people who failed to develop antibodies after their first two shots.
The UAE’s coronavirus cases hit a peak of some 4,000 per day in late January, but have since fallen to fewer than 1,500 per day and on May 18th, it reported just 1,270 new infections. Separately on that day, the UAE also said it had approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15.
In late April, the UAE announced it would consider “strict measures” to limit the movement of people unvaccinated against the coronavirus, seeking to further ramp up its national inoculation campaign that has already administered nearly 11.5 million shots in its population of roughly 10 million.
More than 73% of adults have been vaccinated in the UAE, according to authorities, one of the highest rates in the world.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, was one of the first Emiratis to receive the Sinopharm vaccine.
Other vaccine boosters
The UAE’s move comes amid debate by infectious-disease doctors as to whether people who received U.S.-approved vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will require boosters. Top executives at both drug companies have said that they expect additional shots could be needed and Moderna recently reported positive results from a study of a booster shot.
Researchers have said the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines offer protection for at least six months. Experts at the WHO and Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have questioned the need for additional shots.