Saudi Arabia’s response to the COVID-19 Challenge and Progress

Until May 5, 2021, the population percentage covid-19 vaccinated stands at 14.2%, with 9.75 million doses already given and so far with no significant side effects.

As the most significant step in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has undertaken a step towards self-reliance by rolling out the program for developing the Kingdom’s own vaccine for Covid-19. 

The Kingdom’s own vaccine is currently being developed by researchers of the Institute for Research and Medical Consultations (IRMC), an Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University affiliate. The developed vaccine has already cleared preclinical studies. The university has started its first phase of clinical trials, proving the vaccine’s efficacy against the virus in laboratory trials.

The research paper published by the IRMC team states the vaccine has so far shown effectiveness in producing antibodies against the virus when used on animals.

The experimental vaccine is going through rigorous testing and further clinical trials before its approval for general use by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority.

Saudi Arabia has been very quick in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, being one of the first countries to isolate itself following a rise in the virus’s global spread.

The Kingdom reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 2, 2020, and ever since, the Saudi authorities have worked overtime to ensure its citizens’ safety. 

Several healthcare services using the latest technology have been introduced to fight the pandemic effectively. These services employ the technologies introduced to update the number of confirmed cases and other details such as the recoveries etc., daily. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began rolling out its vaccination campaign in mid-December of last year, within a week of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines approval, for the Kingdom’s emergency state-wide use. Among the first ones to be vaccinated in Riyadh were the Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah and several other citizens.

Since then, hundreds of vaccination centers have started operations in the Kingdom’s efforts to expand the vaccination program.

Efforts and Process

  • Vaccines available in Saudi Arabia
  • Can everybody get vaccinated in Saudi Arabia?
  • Registering for the vaccination program
  • Where to get vaccinated in Saudi Arabia?

Vaccines available in Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom is currently dispensing the Pfizer/BioNTech at all its vaccination centers. In its efforts to boost the vaccination program, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) has authorized the import and use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on February 18 this year.

Can everybody get vaccinated in Saudi Arabia?

All citizens and expatriates above the age of 16 are permitted to register for the vaccine. The Saudi authorities stated that all 16 to 18-year-olds would be inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine, while the remaining citizens and residents aged 18 and above will be provided with the Astrazeneca shots.

Authorities have also clarified that pregnant women too can register for the coronavirus vaccine. Studies show that the vaccine presents no harm to pregnant women or the fetus, based on studies of over 35,000 women in the United States who were given either the Pfizer or Moderna shots during their pregnancies.

The Saudi vaccination campaign uses the following three-tier approach, 

  • The first tier, the most vulnerable to infection and those with chronic ailments
  • The second tier is for those aged over 50.
  • The third tier to vaccinate everyone.

On May 5, 2021, the number of vaccinated residents had crossed the 14.2 percent mark, with a total of 9,757,161 doses of COVID vaccines already administered so far and with hardly a report of any side effects.

Registration for the vaccination program

The Saudi government has announced with great clarity that the vaccinations will be provided free of cost to all residents who have yet to contract the virus. The Saudi Health Ministry invited all Saudis and ex-pats within the Kingdom to register for their vaccination through the Sehaty app. 

After downloading the Sehaty app, users must enter their details to apply for the vaccination appointment. Users of the app will typically receive a text message within 48 hours of submitting the request; the received text provides the details of the location and date of the appointment. 

Alternatively, a person could also call 937.

Where do you go to get your vaccination?

There are more than 300 government-provided centers across Saudi Arabia; these also include very convenient drive-through centers. Additionally, pharmacies across the Kingdom provide the vaccine for free.

The government of Saudi Arabia announced a delay in the appointments scheduled for the second round of vaccinations. This delay is due to the shortage of global supplies of vaccines. The Saudi authorities announced that all confirmed appointments for the second dose stand postponed as of Sunday, April 11, 2021, and would announce their resumption later.

As a note of caution, the Ministry of Health has officially refuted the baseless rumors circulating on social media suggesting that people waiting for their second doses will not receive them due to concerns about the side effects.  

Extraordinary efforts in the fight against Covid-19

Saudi Arabia has made a gracious decision of waiving all penalties for people who have overstayed their visas due to the stoppage of flights and has ended the jail terms for those convicted in debt-related cases. The Kingdom has also ordered the suspension of arrests and deportation of expatriates with illegal immigration status, provided they come forward voluntarily and get tested for COVID-19, especially if they had been in an area with high infection numbers. This humanitarian gesture has helped in curbing the spread of the virus.

From the very beginning, the Saudi officials announced that everyone living in the Kingdom would be provided with free testing and hospitalization in case of illness at public or private facilities. This facility is provided across the board without discrimination between citizens or expatriates and legal status. Everyone has been treated equally well and fairly.

In his televised speech on March 19, 2020, HRH King Salman had vowed to take all measures required to fight the pandemic and said at the occasion, “all human life will always be the first priority of the Kingdom.”

While most countries scrambled to close their borders, leaving their citizens stranded in foreign countries, the Saudi government took a measured response to this health crisis by effectively providing the financial and logistical needs. In what has been a matter of great pride, the Saudi government insured the safe return of its citizens abroad by conducting carefully laid-out evacuation plans that included free accommodations, transportations, medications, and flights back home.

A little more than a year has passed since the first case of the virus was confirmed in the Kingdom. Despite the challenges it has created, Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the mastermind and architect of Vision 2030, presided over the first-of-its-kind G20 forum, virtually Future Investment Initiative, and announcing The Line project and more.

Saudi Arabia’s expanded COVID-19 vaccination process and operations are exceptionally smooth. Witnesses account that any vaccination center in Riyadh is impressive in their organization and the entire procedure of the vaccination takes 24 minutes from arrival to departure.

The process requires showing the virtual ID via the Tawakkalna app and the confirmation of the appointment on the Sehhaty App, followed by a queue to a booth to get a ticket. Visitors then follow a color-coded line matching the color of the ticket. At the end of the colored line, the visitor is guided to a private room with a health professional to screen medical conditions. 

This screening is an extra precaution as there already was screening during the appointment booking process. Finally, the visitor is given the first dose; all this is done within minutes.

As a precaution, you will be asked to wait for 15 minutes in the observation area before being allowed to leave.

Words will never be enough to praise the efforts of this great country and its leaders.

Well done, Saudi Arabia.

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