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Public Leadership Working to Dispel COVID-19 Vaccine Suspicions

Public Leadership Working to Dispel COVID-19 Vaccine Suspicions

Coronavirus vaccines landing in Middle East; public remains uneasy about inoculations

The highly touted Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines, for which regulatory agencies have given emergency-use approval, are beginning to arrive in the Middle East.

The first inoculations have already begun in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom received its first consignment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday and distribution has already started. More than 150,000 Saudi citizens have already registered online to be treated.

Saudi Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah was shown in the media receiving his vaccine injection.

The UAE, using the Sinovac Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, has also already launched its national vaccine program. It, as well as other MENA countries, conducted trials from Sinopharm, another Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.

Bahrain’s state-run news agency said the Sinopharm vaccine would also be available in the island kingdom. It did not state when inoculations would start.

Morocco is also starting with China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb told parliament this week that the vaccine was safe. According to Ait Taleb, “Clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine have not yet recorded serious side effects but only local ones, such as rashes at the injection site, headaches and fatigue.”

Kuwait has granted emergency use for the Pfizer vaccine

In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is in quarantine until Friday, announced that he would be vaccinated against the virus on Saturday night.

In an official statement to the Israeli public, he said, “I have asked to be the first person to get vaccinated in order to serve as an example and to persuade you that you can and should be vaccinated.”

Yet, not everyone remains convinced that they should be inoculated against the virus.

In a study conducted by Israel’s University of Haifa and released this week, less than one-fifth of Israelis are willing to take the new vaccine immediately. The study showed that 20.3% of Israeli Jewish respondents and 16% of Israeli Arab respondents said that they would like the vaccine immediately.

The study also found that 7.7% of Jewish men, 29.4% of Arab men, 17.2% of Jewish women, and 41.2% of Arab women responded they would refuse the vaccine under any circumstances.

People are naturally suspicious of something new. Their cautiousness is not from fear. We looked at data from other studies and this cautiousness is a consensus around the world; it is not unusual

Conducted in late October/early November, the survey came before Israel announced vaccine purchases, Prof. Manfred Green, director of University of Haifa’s international master’s program in public health, told The Media Line.

“People are naturally suspicious of something new. Their cautiousness is not from fear,” Green noted.

“We looked at data from other studies and this cautiousness is a consensus around the world; it is not unusual,” he said.

For instance, a study conducted in early September by the Pew Research Center in the US showed that only 51% of respondents said they would definitely or probably get the vaccine.

Green noted people’s suspiciousness to other recent vaccines: “We saw the same phenomenon in 2009 against the swine flu vaccine and the past years against the HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccine.”

He concluded, “Another reason for the suspicion may well be the term ‘mRNA,’ because it sounds like a genetic modification or that the vaccine has a genetic component. It does not. It is the technology used to produce the vaccine.”

Echoing Green, Israel’s Health Ministry, in a statement to The Media Line, noted: “Regarding the vaccines against COVID-19, the fact that the vaccines were developed relatively quickly, some of them with unique technologies, and the relatively minor experience with their use, are all factors increasing fear in parts of the general public.”

The ministry is making a concerted effort to dispel these fears. It is working to meet with the general public, medical teams and community leaders. In fact, thousands of health workers are participating in Zoom teleconferences to receive details about the vaccine.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 2 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Afghanistan50,2022,03238,6869,484
Algeria93,5072,63161,70029,176
Bahrain89,60034987,6901,561
Cyprus16,190852,05714,048
Djibouti5,759615,62870
Egypt123,1536,990105,71910,444
Iran1,138,53053,095856,513228,922
Iraq580,44912,650515,32152,478
Israel366,6123,040341,74321,829
Jordan267,5853,465230,27433,846
Kuwait146,971913142,9093,149
Lebanon150,9331,234104,20745,492
Libya93,2831,33763,23128,715
Mauritania11,6292448,2813,104
Morocco406,9706,749366,83533,386
Oman127,0191,483119,0096,527
Pakistan448,5229,080396,59142,851
Palestinian Territories115,606104890,95223,606
Qatar141,557242139,2432,072
Saudi Arabia360,3356,080351,1923,063
Somalia4,6621243,566972
Sudan22,2651,40812,8737,984
Syria9,6035544,5484,501
Tunisia114,5473,99787,88422,666
Turkey1,928,16517,1211,691,113219,931
United Arab Emirates188,545626165,74922,170
Yemen2,0856061,38495
Total7,004,284137,2445,994,898872,142

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