Dr. Sophia Bayat, Head of Vaccination at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) answers questions about the new vaccines.
Some 70% of the population should be vaccinated against COVID-19 to ensure that enough people have antibodies and the public can go back to normal life without restrictions, a vaccine expert from the health ministry said on Tuesday.
In remarks made on a live question and answer session online, Dr. Sophia Bayat, Head of Vaccination at the Ministry of Public Health said the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine currently being administered in Qatar can be effective for a minimum of four to five months according to initial clinical trials.
“Even with taking the COVID-19 vaccine, residents of Qatar must maintain strict precautionary measures as sufficient antibodies will only begin to develop after the second dose of the jab,” she said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Doha on December 21. The first to receive the first batch of the vaccine, starting December 23, were three different groups: seniors above 70 years of age, people with chronic illnesses who are 16 years old or above, and frontline workers in the health sector.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is new; it’s very difficult to say for how long it will be effective. Research is still ongoing into how strong that protection is and how long it lasts. But clinical trials show that it can be effective for a minimum of four to five months hopefully it will be more. Follow up is being done with people who are vaccinated,” she said.
While the number of reported COVID-19 daily cases has also been steadily decreasing, the ministry of public health is still reporting 200+ cases daily.
More than 1.2 million people have been tested for the novel coronavirus in Qatar since the beginning of the outbreak, which experts say has contributed massively to the country’s success in managing the pandemic.
Clinical trials showed 95% of those tested developed antibodies after receiving two doses of the vaccine.
However, Dr. Al Bayat emphasised that clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine did not include either pregnant or lactating women and children below the age of 16, and available data is so far insufficient to determine any risks to them posed by the vaccine.
As the vaccination programme rolls out, many in Qatar have raised questions about the possible short-term and long-term side-effects of the vaccine given how fast it has been developed.
Some have shown very modest side effects including mild fever, mild headache, fatigue and soreness at the injection site, which is commonly seen with other vaccines. However, Dr. Yousef Al Maslamani, Medical Director at Hamad General Hospital, has previously assured that no one in Qatar has experienced those symptoms.
“When we receive the next batches of the COVID-19 vaccine we will gradually include every category of the population. The vaccine is given free and to everyone regardless of their nationality,” said Dr. Al Bayat. “While the vaccine is not mandatory in Qatar everyone is encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”