Governments around the world are racing to deliver critical COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of their citizens. Countries in the Middle East are no exception, with some topping global tables for vaccine distribution.
In first place globally, Israel has so far inoculated more than 50 percent of its citizens with at least one jab as of 25 February, while the United Arab Emirates places a close second. The UAE’s approach has been based on a diverse portfolio of vaccines, including the Chinese Sinopharm, German Pfizer/BioNTech, Russian Sputnik V, and the British Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
Almost 20 million doses of lifesaving vaccines against COVID-19 have been distributed around the Middle East region so far. Out of the total number, more than 40 percent have been distributed in Israel alone, followed by 31 percent in the UAE.
Gulf countries as vaccine incubators and a global distribution hub
While there is a widening gap between vaccination efforts around the region, the Gulf countries have been one of the earliest to start vaccinating their citizens and residents with a diverse portfolio of vaccines based on different technologies.
The Gulf countries have inoculated more than 7.3 million people so far with the UAE leading the group.
Even prior to starting inoculations, several countries in the region have participated in the final phase of vaccine clinical trials.
Together with the UAE, Bahrain was the second country in the region to partake in the Chinese Sinopharm Phase 3 clinical trials, administered voluntarily to the country’s health workers, in the second half of 2020.
One of the earliest in the region to start inoculating its citizens and residents, the UAE officially registered the Sinopharm vaccine on December 9 of last year after an efficiency rate of 86 percent in clinical trials.
The Chinese vaccine has been approved for emergency use in both countries, with most other countries in the region subsequently approving the Chinese jab.
In addition to administering vaccines within the country, the UAE has pledged to help global vaccination efforts as well.
The recently launched logistics center, also known as the Hope Consortium, which includes the UAE Department of Health (DOH), Etihad Cargo and the Abu Dhabi Ports Company, will be able to store and distribute billions of COVID-19 vaccines to the world.
In early February, the Emirates Airline issued an official statement that it would make daily deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to countries with low storage capacities.
As the first in the region to develop its own vaccine candidate, Saudi Arabia’s Imam Abdul Rahman bin Faisal University has started the first phase of clinical trials in early February for its vaccine, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and UK-based AstraZeneca.
Regional disparities in inoculations
While there is a variety of vaccine options across the region, the disparity between wealthier and poorer countries has increased with vaccine distribution schemes and marked the beginning of regional recovery as unequal.
While all countries in the region are participants in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX scheme for vaccine distribution, many are yet to receive their first vaccine batch.
There are no official numbers on the number of administered doses in Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Yemen announced on 5 February that it will receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in March, while Syria has already received both the Sputnik V and the EpiVacCorona vaccine from Russia, making it the first in the region to inoculate its population with the EpiVacCorona vaccine.
While the coming months bring uncertainty in the number of inoculations, many countries in the region are hopeful that their participation in the COVAX scheme will alleviate the vaccination burden and help them in the fight against the pandemic.