Vaccine joy but long road ahead

December 24, 2020
Dr. Ghadeer
Dr. Ghadeer
Dr. Ghadeer Talal Melibari

There were tears of joy as the first people in the Kingdom were given the coronavirus vaccine. I’m sure many others became emotional as they watched footage of Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah declaring “it’s safe” as he himself received it.

The first 150,000 people to be immunized also included elderly people with beaming smiles, describing themselves as the luckiest people alive. It was an uplifting moment in a difficult year as Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman rightly called it “the beginning of the end of this crisis”.

We can at last see light at the end of a very dark tunnel that has been 2020. It has been a year unlike any other where we have been locked down at home, international borders have been closed and business and mental health have suffered immeasurably.

But one positive during these difficult times has been how we have come together at all levels of society. International organizations have praised us for being one of the most successful countries in dealing with the pandemic.

The “high-level and well-experienced committee” put together by the government has rightly received plaudits, but every single Saudi person and community can also feel proud.

We have looked out for one another, with no distinction made between any citizen or resident, and we will all have access to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the near future.

But as Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman said, this is only the beginning of the end... and there is still some way to go before life can return to normal. For a start, the vaccine requires two doses for high effectiveness that are given three weeks apart. This means that the first 150,000 to receive it will not be fully immunized until early in the new year.

It is also being rolled out in three phases, and most of us won’t be immunized for some time yet. Those that need it most are being prioritized — over 65s, those with chronic diseases, and health professionals who are vulnerable to infection as they fight the pandemic.

A second phase will then cover all those over 50, with people under this age receiving the vaccine during a third phase.

The inoculation is free of charge and all Saudis have been urged to sign up for it through the app. This is undoubtedly the good news we have been waiting for and is part of a positive picture emerging around the world.

Inoculations have started in the US, Lebanon is set to agree a deal for 1.5 million doses and the vaccine has been approved for use in the European Union, to give a few examples.

But the situation in the UK shows us that this is indeed only the beginning of the end and this virus is still incredibly dangerous. Similarly to Saudi Arabia, a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was rolled out there recently, with 130,000 people receiving it.

Since then, a new strain of the virus, which spreads far more quickly, has been discovered and was described as being “out of control” in areas including London by the health minister.

This led many countries to temporarily suspend transport links with the UK. All international flights to Saudi Arabia were also stopped for at least a week, highlighting how seriously the authorities here are taking it.

The vaccine will undoubtedly enable us all to emerge from the nightmare and have a bright future some time in 2021. But the situation in the UK proves in the short term, it’s a time for hope but not complacency. We still have a long road ahead in the fight against the pandemic.

— Dr. Ghadeer Talal Melibari, holder of PhD in English from University of Hertfordshire, UK, is currently working as Assistant Professor of English teaching at Umm Al-Qura University, Makkah.

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