On 15th July 2021, world renowned infectious diseases experts and government representatives from the health sector in Hong Kong and the UAE joined a webinar hosted by the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates in Hong Kong to exchange views and experiences on COVID-19 vaccination.
The webinar aimed to shed light on Hong Kong and the UAE’s respective strengths and successes in the pandemic response: Hong Kong has won acclaim for keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control despite being one of the world’s most densely population cities, even more remarkable given that no drastic lockdown measures were implemented. It is also moving forward with expanding its vaccination campaign. At the same time, the UAE is approaching herd immunity with the world’s top ranking in vaccination rate, at more than 66% of the country’s total population by the second week of July, as well as the successful reopening of its economic, education, culture, tourism and entertainment sectors. Thus, experts from both sides shared valuable insights and took lessons of resilience from each other, discussing Hong Kong’s experience with the SARS pandemic in 2003, UAE’s production of Hayat-Vax in collaboration with Sinopharm, as well as ongoing developments such as vaccine trials on children and the possibility and efficacy of booster shots.
In her opening remarks, Mariam Alshamsi, UAE Acting Consul General to Hong Kong, emphasized the need to communicate and collaborate in our efforts to combat the pandemic, as part of a connected global community. She also pointed to the much-anticipated opening of Expo 2020 Dubai in October 2021, for which mass vaccination, in combination with mask wearing and social distancing measures, is a key component to its preparedness to receive international visitors and fulfil its purpose of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”.
The webinar received attendees from top researchers and medical professionals from both Hong Kong and UAE institutions, including the Faculties of Medicine and Schools of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, UAE University, Khalifa University, and Mohamed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences.
A proactive approach as the key to UAE’s success in vaccination campaign:
Dr Farida Al Hosani stressed the importance of proactive community engagement – the social media campaign was started in the UAE in August 2020 even before the 4Humanity Trial began in September the same year, and every effort was made to create incentives and meet people where they are. For example, drive through vaccination centres made it easier for private sector employees to get vaccinated, while dedicated teams made house calls for age groups that are less educated and may not have a social media presence. There is targeted messaging for different demographic groups as well, for example, utilizing so-called ambassadors or champions from community members to promote the benefits of vaccination among their peers in the same age group.
Collaboration as the way forward:
No country is safe from the ravages of the pandemic until we all are safe, and the speakers pointed to the need to collaborate in scientific research and data sharing to overcome COVID-19. As Dr Farida Al Hosani mentioned, “The success of one country is not enough, and it is the UAE’s mission to contribute to a connected global effort.” This is why the UAE has launched many initiatives, including the Hope Consortium and Dubai Vaccine Logistics Alliance, to support the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to different countries and regions.
About the speakers:
Professor Wallace Lau (moderator) is Daniel CK Yu Professor in Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong. He now serves as Head and Chief of Service of the University Department of Medicine at Queen Mary Hospital. In December 2020, Professor Lau was appointed Convener of the Advisory Panel on COVID-19 Vaccines formed under the Prevention and Control Disease (use of vaccines) Regulation of the HKSAR Government.
Dr Farida Al Hosani, Official Spokesperson of the Health Sector in the UAE, has been the public face of the government’s COVID-19 response since the beginning of the pandemic, from explaining prevention measures to unveiling the details of the vaccination programme. She is also the Executive Director of Communicable Diseases at the Abu Dhabi Center of Public Health.
Dr Ho Pak Leung is Director of the University of Hong Kong’s Carol Yu Centre for Infection and Honorary Consultant at the Department of Clinical Microbiology at Queen Mary Hospital. He is also a well-published & highly-cited researcher primarily in the fields of emerging antimicrobial resistance, clinical microbiology and infectious diseases.
Dr Walid Zaher is Chief Research Officer and Vaccine Project Leader at G42 Healthcare, an Abu Dhabi-based company which facilitated and managed the 4Humanity project that involved the world’s first ever Phase III clinical trials of Sinopharm’s deactivated vaccine against COVID-19.
Ms Joan Hung is Principal Assistant Secretary for Food and Health at the Food and Health Bureau. Her areas of expertise include managing the electronic health record programme and the use of IT for healthcare services in Hong Kong.