The cabinet of Qatar tightened measures to stem the spread of the novel Coronavirus at the beginning of February due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. Further restrictions have been imposed on various institutions and their operations, and the number of individuals allowed to attend large gatherings and entertainment events. Similar steps have been taken in the United Arab Emirates in light of the threat the virus still poses. For instance, no more than 30 % of staff are permitted to come in to work at state and semi-governmental institutions in the Emirate of Dubai. Individuals who have not been vaccinated need to undergo weekly health checks, etc.
Lebanon’s Ministry of Information has developed a comprehensive campaign designed to notify the population about the goals of the vaccination drive and to counteract various rumors and superstitious thinking.
In the meantime, topics, such as selecting an optimal vaccine, as well as its proven efficacy and safety among the global community, have become the focus of Middle Eastern media outlets. In the opinion of local journalists, discussions about all of these issues are becoming increasingly politicized. And recent headlines also reflect this shift: “Vaccine wars and their participants”, “Battles over vaccines pose challenges and offer hope”, “Conflicts over vaccines and their effect on poorer nations”.
According to Al-Arab (a London-based pan-Arab newspaper), the US leadership is primarily concerned with providing enough vaccine for its own residents and not with its promotion or export, and they still use every available opportunity to cast doubt on the efficacy of Russian and Chinese vaccines.
Reports from a number of US and EU media outlets that
express distrust towards Russia’s Sputnik V are also being closely followed in the region. Some articles talk about a new Cold war in the health care sector, and others about noticeable signs of Russophobia in information campaigns directed against the Russian vaccine, a sentiment reminiscent of the Cold War era.
In the opinion of Moroccan psychologist Dr. Hamid Lahhab, Western mass media outlets have been trying to convince the global community that Sputnik V is not a success story and instead the focus of Russia’s propaganda campaign. He also states that the West is intent on saving as many of their own inhabitants as possible while residents of poorer nations are not a priority at present. Hence, by selling vaccines to developing countries, governments in the West will be able to reap political and economic benefits later on. According to Dr. Hamid Lahhab, Moroccans were not ardent fans of either Vladimir Putin nor the Russian Federation, and yet Russian laboratories have designed an effective vaccine to stem the spread of COVID-19 using resources available to them.
The health ministry of the Palestinian Authority has recently approved the Russian vaccine for use in its self-ruled territory. Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) also authorized Sputnik V for emergency use after approving the registration of three other foreign vaccines.
The United Arab Emirates also approved Russia’s Coronavirus vaccine for emergency use since studies showed that it was effective and resulted in a strong response.
Head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration announced that the country had purchased 2 million doses of Sputnik-V COVID-19 vaccine, whose first shipment had already arrived.
At the beginning of February, Algeria’s Minister of Pharmaceutical Industry Lotfi Benbahmed said that all the relevant documents to help localize production of Sputnik V had been sent to the National Medicines Agency a month and a half ago. “Russia is ready to provide us with this technology and to support Algeria in this project,” he added. In fact, health experts welcomed “Algeria’s decision to manufacture Russian Sputnik V vaccine locally”. One of them stated that factories that were to make this vaccine would rely “on the high technology” Algeria would “want to transfer to the country”.
Head of Egypt’s Health Committee in the House of Representatives Dr. Ashraf Hatem has stated that the effectiveness of the Russian vaccine was much higher than that of the Chinese one.
Health experts in the Middle East recognize the benefits of Sputnik V. The vaccine can be easily stored and transported under fairly normal conditions unlike the Pfizer /BioNTech one, which requires refrigeration at very low temperatures. In addition, Sputnik V has few side effects and the price per dose is significantly less than that of other foreign vaccines making it a good option in the developing world. According to reports, the Russian Federation was to donate 200,000 doses of its Coronavirus vaccine to Lebanon.
All in all, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine continues to gain approval in the Middle East.
Yuri Zinin, a senior researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Institute of International Studies of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.