Two women with face masks walk down a shopping street in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on April 19, 2021.
Francois Nel | el Getty Images News | Getty Images
Vaccination campaigns in several Middle Eastern countries are racing ahead of the rest of the world in early 2021.
Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain led the list when it came to the doses administered per 100 people at the beginning of the year.
Six months later, all three are still in the top 10 most vaccinated countries – but charts show that their Covid infection trends have varied widely.
As of June 1st, 57.8% of Bahrain’s population were fully vaccinated and 59.7% of Israeli residents received both doses of the Covid vaccine, according to Our World in Data. The UAE’s data on fully vaccinated people was last updated on April 20 when the figure was 38.8%.
Israel’s new daily cases plummeted as its vaccination program resumed, and the data showed that infections have remained largely in the low double digits for more than a month since late April. That was until there was a resurgence in late June.
The case numbers are a fraction of the previous peaks, but have risen rapidly in the past few days.
The highly contagious Delta variant is responsible for about half of all new cases, according to Nadav Davidovitch, chairman of the Israeli Association of Doctors in Public Health.
However, simulations predict that even with “widespread transmission,” there will only be several hundred serious cases, he told CNBC on a video call. “Not like earlier in the third wave,” he added, referring to the surge that began late last year.
The United Arab Emirates is number one in terms of total doses administered per 100 people, according to Our World in Data. But new infections in the country stubbornly hover around 2,000 a day.
The cases have fallen from record highs reported in January and temporarily dropped to the mid-1,000 mark in May, but otherwise they have largely remained in the same region.
Still, cases now remain higher than the average daily cases of around 1,200 reported in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority announced in May that it will offer a third dose of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. It came amid questions about the vaccine’s effectiveness as there were reports of infections in people who had received two vaccinations.
The country later said those who have received the Sinopharm vaccine can receive the Pfizer BioNTech syringe as a booster shotreported Reuters.
Infections in Bahrain reached record highs in late May, although vaccinations in the country were well advanced.
The kingdom reported 3,273 new cases on May 29, according to Our World in Data.
At this point in time, more than 911,000 people in Bahrain had received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine. It has a population of around 1.76 million people.
Since then, the new daily cases have dropped to hundreds.
Bahrain is also offering third doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine. Booster shots of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine are available for more vulnerable groups such as those over 50, three months after receiving a second dose of Sinopharm.
Infections aren’t the only indicator of a country’s coronavirus situation, and vaccinations aren’t the only factor.
In addition to vaccination, a country’s demographics and Covid restrictions also play a role in the severity of the disease and how quickly the virus spreads.
The death toll in Israel and the United Arab Emirates has fallen and has remained, while the daily new Covid-related deaths per million in Bahrain rose to 17 in June.
The outbreaks in Middle Eastern countries are not of concern, said Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection.
“I don’t think we should worry too much,” he told CNBC in an email. “Most, or at least a significant proportion of the cases, reportedly involved those who were not vaccinated.”
“The main concern is that it doesn’t look like we can get away without vaccinating a very significant segment of the population,” he said.
Doctors said that high vaccination rates will not rule out case clusters in the future either.
“I think as long as the virus circulates around the world and borders remain open, there will be occasional outbreaks of the virus even in heavily vaccinated populations,” Tambyah said.
Davidovitch said “local outbreaks” in children who are not vaccinated are likely to continue.
He said it was “hard to tell” whether reliance on Chinese vaccines – as in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – could be linked to dramatic increases in Covid cases.
Tambyah noted that Israel, which has primarily used Pfizer vaccines, is experiencing a resurgence in cases as well.
He said there were no scientific publications comparing traditional vaccines developed by China with vaccines based on messenger RNA technology, which instructs the body to produce a harmless piece of the virus that triggers an immune response.
“Unfortunately, I think higher vaccination rates are required,” said Tambyah.