There’s already a vaccine available in the U.A.E. and Bahrain. It’s a Chinese vaccine, and it’s being given with emergency use authorization to ‘frontline workers’. That isn’t just health care workers. It even includes flight attendants at Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways. (HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)
The BBIBP-CorV vaccine from China’s state-owned Sinopharm appears efficacious. My concern with inactivated virus vaccines was that the benefits would be modest at best, but so far appears to be exceeding expectations. (My worry with adenovirus vaccines is that they’ll work once, but that we’ll develop immunity to the harmless virus used to deliver protection and it won’t work a second time, which is why long-term I’m excited by the mRNA vaccine from Pfizer.)
This isn’t just experimenting on people. Sinopharm has reportedly vaccinated at least hundreds of thousands of people outside of its stage 3 trial. Dubai’s ruler has even taken the vaccine and over 30,000 people in the U.A.E. have had it so far.
While receiving the COVID-19 vaccine today. We wish everyone safety and great health, and we are proud of our teams who have worked relentlessly to make the vaccine available in the UAE. The future will always be better in the UAE. pic.twitter.com/Rky5iqgfdg
— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) November 3, 2020
The Etihad flight attendant wasn’t part of the U.A.E. stage 3 trial, but rather received the vaccine as part of the the emergency use authorization for front line workers. She had vaccination paperwork. She returned home to Australia and the government there initially put her into a state quarantine hotel, not prepared to address ‘what do we do with people that have already taken a vaccine’.
Rochelle arrived at Sydney airport last week with her vaccination paperwork, much to the bewilderment of Australian health officials.
“They looked at me like I was the one making a mistake. They said you know there is no vaccine”, she said.
She was eventually allowed “into normal quarantine to join her family.”
It’s notable that ‘front line workers’ does include flight attendants, and that there’s enough injections in the U.A.E. for guest worker cabin crew at that.
Now that people are getting vaccinated and traveling, governments are going to have to figure out how to factor that into their border plans and quarantine rules.
- Can borders be opened to people that have been vaccinated?
- Does a vaccination suffice, or will the arriving passenger still need a negative Covid-19 test?
- Will a vaccination replace required quarantine?
Even the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, which has so far exceeded expectations with regard to reported efficacy, is not perfect. Could a dose have thawed soemtime in transit or storage (though Pfizer will be tracking this)? With as many people who will ultimately receive injections there are surely going to be outliers on whom the vaccine works imperfectly. So vaccination isn’t a guarantee that someone does not get the virus and spread it at the exact moment they’ve traveled, it just makes it far less likely. That’s plenty good enough for some countries but not the view taken by some.
And until enough people in a community have been vaccinated, bringing the virus into a country where it’s not already spreading widely entails risk. Each country will likely take a somewhat different approach then, and the challenge is coming sooner than later (in fact it’s already here).