While many countries, including the US, Israel and many in Europe, have been able to cut back on strict anti-coronavirus measures due to successful vaccination campaigns, other countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, that have depended on China’s Sinopharm vaccine are suffering from a sharp rise in new infections.
Bahrain and the UAE are among the top 10 countries in the world in vaccinations per capita.
Last month, the World Health Organization granted emergency approval for the Sinopharm vaccine. This decision came despite WHO experts saying earlier that more data was needed.
Authorities in Bahrain and the UAE said late last week that a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine would be administered to people who had not come down with the coronavirus, six months after they received the second dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, starting with front-line workers, the elderly and those with preconditions that make the virus more dangerous.
More than 75% of the eligible population – or 1.008 million out of 1.3 million people over the age of 12 − in Bahrain has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to official data. Still, there were more than 3,000 new infections each day, more than during previous waves of the virus, before a partial closure was reintroduced last week.
Bahrain and the UAE have used four vaccines: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sputnik V. Authorities have not disclosed the proportion of each type used, but unofficial data obtained by The Media Line indicate that no less than 40% of those vaccinated received the Sinopharm formulation.
In Bahrain, according to data released at the end of May, “83% of new infections were in people who did not complete two doses of a vaccine or the specified period afterward [for full effectiveness], or did not receive any dose of a vaccine, and 95% of deaths were of people who did not take any dose of a vaccine.”
The data published at the end of April also indicated that “95% of infections were in people who did not receive any dose of a vaccine.”
The UAE has not released data about new infections and whether the patients had been vaccinated.
Moreover, people who have received the Sinopharm or Sputnik V vaccines face problems entering Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, even if they are from fellow Gulf countries, as the authorities in these two countries have not yet recognized the vaccines as effective.
Bahrain and the UAE hosted some of the Phase III clinical trials of the Sinopharm vaccine, but the manufacturer subsequently terminated the trial contracts with test subjects, angering them and health authorities. The contracts were for a year, during which the subjects were to undergo medical examinations every three months, but most contracts were terminated after six months to eight months.
An informed Bahraini medical source told The Media Line: “We are now in a pandemic. We told the Sinopharm vaccine manufacturer that it must reveal whether the person during the experiments received a real vaccine or a placebo, but the company refused and said that it would give the data of each person individually but the contract with him must then be terminated, and the company refused to give us full data about the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
He continued: “We authorized 7,700 participants in clinical trials, most of whom were under 60 years old, but later we discovered that the [Sinopharm] vaccine is not safe for people over 49 years old, and therefore health protocols for COVID-19 vaccines were modified.”
“We will administer booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to elderly people and other people at risk, and to those working on the front lines, to ensure the effectiveness of the vaccine. In general, it can be said that two doses of the Sinopharm vaccine are equivalent to one dose of Pfizer,” the Bahraini medical source said.
The health authorities have amended the recommendations for the Sinopharm vaccine published in the official “BeAware Bahrain” computer app for COVID-19, saying it is “recommended for the general public between the ages of 18 and 49 years, with the exception of pregnant and lactating women, or women who use contraceptive drugs.”
Dr. Jameela al-Salman, an infectious disease consultant and a member of Bahrain’s National Medical Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus, said that: “Vaccines in general reduce the incidence of disease, but they do not prevent it, as we are in a pandemic stage. All the vaccines adopted by Bahrain show effectiveness against the virus to different degrees. We are learning over time how to deal with this new virus, but the recent rise in infections is due to family gatherings and to gatherings on other occasions.”
Confidence in the Chinese vaccine has fallen to the lowest level in Bahrain and the UAE. Bahrainis have taken to calling it “Marqdoush,” a traditional drink that was previously believed to cure several diseases but was later found to be ineffective. In the UAE, it is mockingly said of some who received the Sinopharm vaccine that they took a dose of “water and salt.”
Dr. Rajesh Mundan, an Indian doctor working in emergency medicine in Bahrain, told The Media Line, “The Sinopharm vaccine only alleviates the severity of the virus, but in general it does not prevent it.”
“We have received emergency cases of people infected with the virus, and they suffered from severe oxygen deficiency, despite receiving the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine,” he added.
“There have also been deaths of infected people who received the vaccine. We did not see any deaths for those who received the Pfizer, Sputnik or AstraZeneca vaccines,” the doctor said.
“The percentages announced by the manufacturer of the Sinopharm vaccine are not real. They initially indicated that its effectiveness may be 88%, but the percentage may not exceed 60%, and it is not useful for the elderly, but it may be useful to employ it as a booster dose for those who have recovered from the virus,” Mundan said.
Egyptian epidemiologist Dr. Islam Annan told The Media Line, that “China succeeded in eliminating the epidemic with this vaccine, but perhaps its effectiveness is less with other peoples, or perhaps its interaction with bodies from different peoples may also be different. We cannot blame the vaccine, but we demand the company provide more real data.”
“We are conducting our own studies of its effectiveness, but now, under the conditions of a pandemic, any treatment or vaccine may be useful to mitigate and eliminate it,” Annan said.