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UAE doctors urge uptake of COVID-19 booster shot after Omicron variant discovery

Doctors in the United Arab Emirates have urged residents to get their COVID-19 booster jab after the first case of the Omicron variant was discovered in the country.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Dr Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in Internal Medicine at Bareen International Hospital at MBZ City, said: “COVID-19 booster shots raise the antibody levels and offer both longer term protection and stronger immune response against COVID-19 variants.

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“Emergence of new variants like B .1.1.529 or Omicron reiterates the importance of booster shots to maintain immunity.”

It is recommended that all individuals above the age of 18 years should take booster shot after 6 months of second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the doctor said.
“Studies have shown that protection against COVID-19 from mRNA vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna may last longer after the booster dose than after original two shot regimen.”
“The importance of booster shots become significant in view of the finding that there were no serious cases caused by variants among vaccinated people.”
The UAE’s Ministry of Health detected on Wednesday the first case of the Omicron variant in the country, state news agency WAM reported.

The new variant was identified in an African woman who traveled from an African country and transited through an Arab country. She had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The health authorities isolated her, and she is being monitored. People who were in contact with her were also isolated.

The UAE is the second Gulf country to detect a case of Omicron infection after Saudi Arabia announced its first case earlier this week/.

The WHO had declared that Omicron, which was detected last month in South Africa, was a variant of concern.

The UAE has announced on November 26 suspending the entry of travelers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique, as a precautionary measure against the spread of Omicron.

However, Emirati citizens will be allowed to enter the UAE coming from those countries given that they present a negative COVID-19 tests obtained within 48 hours of departure, take a PCR test upon arrival in the airport and quarantine for 10 days.

The UAE has reported in November that 100 percent of the population has received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 90.3 percent have been fully vaccinated.
The Gulf country also made COVID-19 vaccine booster shots available for everyone over the age of 18 amid rising concerns over Omicron.

UAE health sector spokesperson Farida al-Hosani urged all residents to get their booster vaccine.

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“The ministry has made the booster shot available for all categories of people over the age of 18 who have received two doses of the Pfizer-BionTech and Sputnik vaccine, given that six months have passed since they received the second dose,” she said.

“We advise everyone to take the booster dose as soon as possible, specifically the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Vaccination contributes to increasing immunity and preventing infection, severe symptoms and deaths, especially when dealing with variants,” she added.

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UAE reports 1,796 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

The UAE announced 1,796 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

This brings the current total active cases in the UAE to 17,551 and the total number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 949,384, according to data from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA).

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The cases were determined out of 232,943 tests in the last 24 hours.

No deaths from the virus were recorded on Saturday, maintaining the total deaths caused by COVID-19 to 2,317 in the UAE.

At least 1,727 patients recovered in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total COVID-19 recoveries to 929,516.

On June 13, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced it would strictly enforce its mask rules – with penalties for those flouting the protocol – and announced it would tighten its rules on the Al Hosn green pass system amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.

NCEMA said that it has recently “monitored some behaviors that have become a danger to society and public health,” referring to people not adhering to COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures and how it has “negatively” impacted recovery efforts.

“Negligence and recklessness in following precautionary measures, and failure in the societal role in maintaining public health and acquired immunity, has resulted in a rise in the number of infections and new waves of the virus,” the authority spokesman said in the briefing.

The authority reaffirmed the need to wear masks in closed public spaces, reiterating that it was mandatory and that not adhering to this rule would result in a fine of up to $816 (AED 3,000).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 4.1 million cases were reported globally in the last week.

It added, however, that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500, noting that COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection as boosters: EMA

Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
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As such, an omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could “increase and extend” protection, a statement from the EMA said.
The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the omicron variant.
Vaccines which include other variants, for example the beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against omicron and other variants of concern, the statement said.
It follows guidance from the World Health Organization that omicron-specific boosters could restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.
But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron, currently driving a surge in new infections globally, in any new shots for use domestically.
On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that has considered the modified shots said the group preferred BA.1-based boosters, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the more recently circulating subvariants.
Top US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators from other countries were seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 omicron variant that caused the massive surge in cases last winter, because those shots can be available sooner than the BA.4/5 based booster the United States plans to use.
The EMA said it would provide more details in coming days.
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Russia scraps remaining COVID-19 restrictions

Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus.
However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates.
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was “suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures.”
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It said the dynamics of the virus were consistent with global trends and 93 percent of confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Since the start of the pandemic in Russia in April 2020, over 800,000 people have died from coronavirus or causes related to COVID-19, Reuters calculations show, with the country recording over 18 million infections.
Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the pandemic struck but take-up was slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products. About 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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