The COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Qatar!
In December 2020, the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech arrived in Qatar. Though Qatar has secured an agreement to purchase another vaccine produced by Moderna, to date only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved by the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Control at the Ministry of Public Health in Qatar for emergency use. Initially, vaccines will be prioritized for population groups that are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 disease – older people over 65 years, people with certain chronic conditions or with compromised immune systems and key healthcare workers. All Qatari citizens and residents will be vaccinated free of charge on a voluntary basis.
mRNA vaccines for COVID-19
Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines that contain strands of genetic material similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. When injected, the mRNA gives instructions to our cells to produce a harmless protein, similar to that present on the surface of the virus. After copies of this protein have been produced, our cells destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our immune system recognizes that the protein copies should not be in our body. Thereafter, our bodies build T-lymphocytes (type of white blood cells called memory cells) and B lymphocytes. These cells will remember how to neutralize the COVID-19 virus if we are subsequently infected.
Efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine
In global clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have demonstrated 95 and 94 percent efficacy in the reduction of laboratory-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 cases, after the administration of the two-dose regimen. In the clinical trials, vaccine efficacy was demonstrated across varying population subgroups defined by age (>16 years), sex, race, ethnicity, baseline body-mass index, and the presence of coexisting conditions.
The vaccine provides protection against illness, which means after two doses of the vaccine, there is a significant risk reduction of having COVID-19 cases requiring a visit the doctor or to be hospitalized. The trials were not designed to test the vaccine efficacy to reduce the risk of asymptomatic cases after vaccination. Hence, the vaccine efficacy does not imply risk reduction of infection or transmission. Therefore, safety measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission are still required even if we get vaccinated.
Additionally, for Pfizer-BioNTech, the 95 percent efficacy is demonstrated seven days after two doses are administered three weeks apart; and for the Moderna vaccine, the 94 percent efficacy is demonstrated 14 days after the two-dose series is administered, with each dose separated by 28 days. This means that optimal protection from the vaccines against symptomatic COVID-19 disease takes time. Therefore, safety measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission are still required while getting vaccinated.
Safety assessment of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines
For both vaccines, the safety assessment identified short-term pain at the injection site, fatigue, and headache as the common side effects.
Effective and simple safety measures to reduce your risk of COVID-19
Whether we are vaccinated or not, we can protect ourselves and our family by following simple but effective safety measures outlined below:
- Avoid large gatherings or crowded spaces where you may be in close contact with others
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Wear a facemask when away from home
- Cough or sneeze in your bent elbow (not your hands)
- Avoid close contact with someone who is sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth
- Avoid shopping during peak hours, when markets and malls are most crowded
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as nutritious eating, regular exercise and getting restful sleep
- Consider quitting tobacco use
If you believe you have been exposed to or have COVID-19, dial 16000 and follow the instructions
Learn more about Qatar’s vaccination efforts: COVID-19 Vaccine | Trusted Information Source
Sources: Pfizer-BioNTech Clinical Trial | Moderna Clinical Trial | World Health Organization (WHO) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Contributors: Dr. Karima Chaabna, Dr. Sohaila Cheema, and Dr. Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy
Editing: Mr. John Hayward