Doctors in the United Arab Emirates have moved to reassure residents who have had two doses of the Sinopharm that taking a third ‘booster shot’ of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is completely safe and will offer an extra layer of protection against COVID-19.
The UAE announced last week that they have made the Pfizer vaccine available to those initially immunized with Sinopharm vaccine to offer maximum protection against the coronavirus.
The Gulf states, which have vaccinated large portions of their populations, initially started inoculating residents and citizens with the Sinopharm COVID-19 shot before later introducing other vaccines.
In May, the UAE also announced it is offering a third dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for those who received their second dose at least six months ago.
On Friday, it was announced that residents could also take the Pfizer/BioNTech as a booster shot.
Neighboring Gulf state Bahrain announced similar measures.
In the UAE, doctors told Al Arabiya English that booster shots are part of the country’s proactive strategy to provide maximum protection.
Dr Rajesh Kumar Gupta, a specialist in internal medicine at Burjeel Specialty Hospital in Sharjah, said the UAE Ministry of Health has announced that people who have completed six months after receiving the second dose of the vaccine would be given a booster dose.
“This is a proactive step taken by the UAE government to improve the immunity of the people against COVID-19 and reduce the chances of contracting the infection,” Gupta said.
“It has also been announced that people who have taken two doses of Sinopharm can get a Pfizer jab as a booster dose. This is completely safe and enhances the immunity of the person better.”
The doctor also said there is no need to get a COVID-19 antibody test – which can determine if you have immunity against coronavirus - before taking a booster jab.
An antibodies test is simple blood sample, called a serology test, which shows whether you have antibodies that could fight off COVID-19.
However, Gupta says it is not necessary to get tested but he would advise to all residents to consider a booster to gain “maximum protection” against the disease.
Gupta said local studies conducted across the Emirates have shown that most of the vaccines are “efficacious in protecting against COVID-19 for about six months.”
“So, as per this, the UAE government has decided to give booster dose to people who have completed six months after receiving both the doses of the vaccine,” the doctor told Al Arabiya English.
“There is no need to do an antibody test before taking the booster dose. First of all, the booster dose will be given to high-risk group and people with co-morbidities in the first phase.”
“Secondly, since it is imperative that all vaccinated people take a booster shot to enhance their immunity against the disease, it is not important that all must subject to an antibody test.”
“Everybody must get a booster dose so as to raise our guard against the virus.”
Gupta said – regardless of booster shots – all UAE residents should continue with safety precautions to limit virus transmission.
“It is important the people follow the safety protocols and precautionary measures till the threat of the virus is gone. It has been found that even vaccinated people can contract the infection.”
“So, to avoid this, it is crucial that all follow the precautionary measures of social distancing, wearing face mask and sanitizing hands. We shall continue these practices till our society is completely safe from the infection.”
Dr Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital in MBZ City, also stressed taking a third booster - regardless of which vaccine – is completely safe.
“Taking Pfizer vaccine as a booster shot after completing the first two Sinopharm jabs do not pose any harm and has no evidence of increased incidence of any adverse events in such cases,” he told Al Arabiya English.
“In the emirate of Abu Dhabi, a booster shot is recommended six months after the second dose has been administered.”
Abu Dhabi has offered Sinopharm shots to the general public since December 2020 and has started using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since April 2021. Abu Dhabi has been offering Sinopharm third doses since last month.
“Checking level of antibodies before getting the booster dose is not required. But even after getting booster doses, usual precautions like wearing mask, sanitizing hands frequently, and social distancing should still be strictly followed.”
The UAE is currently reporting around 2,000 cases a day, down from a February peak of 3,977 but about twice as many as it was reporting in early December.
There have been some concerns about the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine, granted emergency approval by the World Health organization (WHO) in May, due to limited published clinical data being available.
The Chinese vaccine is 78.1 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19, according to a study published last month in the JAMA medical journal.
However, researchers said the data from the study, conducted in countries including the UAE and Bahrain, was insufficient for the elderly and those with chronic diseases.