Iraqi nurse Safaa al-Din Kareem compares the China-donated Sinopharm vaccine as a “lifesaving guard” for the war-torn country.
“The vaccine came at the right time,” said Kareem, who has been working at Iraq’s Medical City, the country’s largest medical complex, to vaccinate health workers with the Chinese vaccine.
Iraq is among many countries in the Middle East which are under the combined challenges of a fragile health system and the difficulty in obtaining vaccines amid the continuous spread of COVID-19.
In the face of production shortfalls and distribution disparities across the globe, China’s vaccine aid and exports have been offering the region a ray of hope.
Over a year after its outbreak in the Middle East, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down despite various controlling measures. The total number of confirmed cases has recently surpassed 10 million in the region, with some countries experiencing new peaks in infections.
Turkey, the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, has been witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases recently. Over 2.87 million cases have been reported in the country, including some 42,000 variant cases.Iran has a tally of over 1.74 million cases.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for stricter border controls last month, warning that another wave of the pandemic could hit the country. For countries still struggling in prolonged wars and deep-rooted conflicts, the pandemic is adding to the suffering of local peoples.
In Iraq, the COVID-19 curfew was extended last week due to surging cases.In Lebanon, economic and political crises compounded by the pandemic have put the country under great pressure.
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in a press conference last month, “In our region, where people and healthcare institutions suffer constantly with war, natural disasters and diseases, this virus has demanded all our efforts.”
On Dec. 30, 2020, the first batch of China’s Sinovac vaccine arrived in Turkey. In mid-January, Turkey launched its vaccination campaign after 14 days of testing on the Chinese jabs.
“I got my two shots and felt minor side effects such as a headache. It is a big relief to know that this vaccine will eventually prevent me from being hospitalized and even death,” said Ayser Akinci, a Turkish pensioner aged 83.”All of my friends got this vaccine which is for us a real life saver at this point, we are grateful to those who have developed it,” she said.
Besides Turkey, China’s vaccine exports have arrived in such Middle Eastern countries as Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and China has offered vaccine aid to countries including Egypt, Iraq and Algeria.In an effort to make vaccines global public goods accessible and affordable for all, China is ready to continue to promote equitable global distribution.
In early March, Iraq managed to kickstart its national vaccination campaign with a batch of China-donated vaccines administered to frontline health workers. Asraa Abbas, a nurse in her 30s, said she felt very happy after receiving a shot at a time when everyone in hospitals was put in constant danger. “The Chinese vaccine not only came to save me, it came to save my whole family.”
Besides its availability, Chinese vaccines have been winning confidence in the Middle East with their efficacy and safety.Turkey announced on March 5 that the Sinovac vaccine has an efficacy of 83.5 percent against COVID-19. In December 2020, The UAE said interim analysis of the phase III trials proved the Sinopharm vaccine to be 86 percent effective.
“Vaccines are the only hope to curb and control the spread of the virus,” said Magdy Badran, a professor of virology and member of the Egyptian Association of Immunology. Badran said the most important thing is that vaccines should be safe, effective, affordable and available, and “the Chinese vaccines are exactly so.”
As many Middle Eastern countries are pinning high hope of overcoming the pandemic on Chinese vaccines, further vaccine cooperation is expected between China and the region.
Nadhum Ali Abdullah, a political expert with Arab Forum, a Baghdad-based think tank, said “China repeatedly announced its readiness to make its vaccines available to other countries,” which is in line with its aim “to build a community of health for all by expanding access to vaccines for developing countries.” Upon the arrival of the China-donated vaccines on March 2, Iraq’s Ministry of Health said the country wants to purchase more Chinese vaccines to meet the urgent need.
China has provided and is providing the vaccine aid free of charge to 69 developing countries in urgent need, while exporting vaccines to 43 countries, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a press conference on the sidelines of China’s annual “two sessions” on March 7. China will continue working with others in unremitting efforts to completely defeat the pandemic, Wang pledged