Ministry Of Public Health
More than 380,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the start of the national program of vaccination against the coronavirus, said Chair of the National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of Infectious Diseases at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) Dr. Abdullatif Al Khal.
Dr Al Khal said during a press conference held by the Ministry of Public Health on Wednesday that nearly 12 percent of the population (16 years and over) in the State of Qatar have so far received at least one dose of the vaccination.
He pointed out that the decision to focus on the groups most vulnerable to health complications related to COVID-19 during the early stages of the national vaccination program contributed to protecting a large proportion of this group from disease very quickly, and the provision of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines also contributed TO the acceleration of the national vaccination program.
Due to the availability of more vaccines and the opening of additional vaccination centers, including the vaccination center at the Qatar National Convention Center and the swab vaccination center in Lusail, the Ministry of Public Health was able to expand the scope of the vaccination program by including more segments of the population within the groups that meet the requirements for vaccination, he said, adding that those aged 50 and over can currently receive the vaccine.
He recommend taking two doses to ensure maximum protection despite that there is some scientific evidence that shows the ability of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to provide a good level of protection after receiving only one dose of the vaccine.
Dr. Al Khal revealed that more than half of the elderly population in the State of Qatar has received at least one dose of the vaccine so far, calling on the elderly and groups most at risk of this disease who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccination.
Dr. Al Khal stated that despite the rapid pace of the vaccination program, it is still too early for all groups of society to receive the vaccine, and that until that time it is important for everyone to continue to follow measures to prevent infection with the virus.
With regard to vaccinating health workers and frontline workers in other departments and institutions, Dr. Al Khal explained that the Ministry of Public Health has given priority to health workers to take the vaccine against COVID-19 for the important role assigned to them in providing treatment to patients and ensuring the functioning of health care.
He noted that more than 70 percent of health staff at HMC and more than 67 percent of health staff at primary health care have been vaccinated so far.
He revealed that the Ministry of Public Health will provide the vaccine for health staff in hospitals and private clinics, starting next week, and they will be contacted and given appointments to take the vaccine.
He also announced that the Ministry of Public Health had given priority to vaccinate teachers, as the percentage of teachers and administrators working in public and private schools exceeded 45 percent so far.
Dr. Al Khal explained that the ministry had begun vaccinating frontline workers in many ministries and state institutions, and had also begun the registration of imams, muezzins and mosque workers to receive the vaccine.
He pointed out that the rapid progress of the national vaccination program against COVID-19 in the State of Qatar means that there is a possibility of a gradual return to normalcy and in all parts of the world, but this will not happen in the next few weeks or months, and it will require continued efforts to address the pandemic.
Dr. Al Khal said that COVID-19 will remain a source of danger until the end of this year, and until all individuals be vaccinated, preventive measures must be followed as they give additional protection from infection.
Regarding the update in the quarantine exemption policy for those who received the vaccine, Dr. Al Khal indicated that the Ministry of Public Health had announced a change in its quarantine exemption policy for people who were fully vaccinated after returning from travel. He noted that the change included extending the validity of the quarantine exemption period from three to six months, starting 14 days after a person received the second dose of the vaccine.
He explained that the decision was taken after reviewing the latest scientific evidence about the effectiveness of the vaccines, which indicates that the effectiveness of the vaccine lasts for more than 6 months. The Ministry of Public Health will keep reviewing this policy in light of any new scientific evidence about the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Dr. Al Khal underlined that the vaccines enable people to travel and move around more safely and freely, however it is still important that vaccinated people follow preventive measures when visiting other countries.
With regard to taking the vaccine during pregnancy, Dr. Al Khal explained that there is no indication that vaccination is not safe during pregnancy, whether for the mother or the fetus, and it is known that infection with the virus during pregnancy may lead to severe complications.
He added that some international bodies recommend that a pregnant woman get the vaccine if she has a chronic disease that may increase the severity of her illness if she is infected with the virus or if she works in a field that exposes her to more infection with the virus.
On the other hand, Dr. Al Khal warned that cases with severe infection with the virus that require hospitalization have increased significantly. The infection rate has become three times more than it was in January, and the number of critical cases that need to be admitted to the ICU is more than three times that of January.
Dr. Al Khal noted that since the application of restrictions in February, all authorities have succeeded in slowing down infection rates, but despite the success in curbing the rate of infections, the number of daily cases is still big, accordingly the number of people who needed hospitalization.
He warned that the virus still poses a threat in the State of Qatar, which requires commitment to the precautionary measures such as physical distancing, the use of protective face masks and washing hands, along with keenness on taking the vaccine.
Speaking about the new variants of the virus, Dr. Al Khal explained that the emergence of new variants in recent months posed greater challenges, stressing that the quarantine policy for travelers returning from abroad led to a delay in the arrival of the variants to Qatar for several months, but he explained that the countries of the region, including the State of Qatar, are now witnessing cases of the new variant from those coming from the United Kingdom, as this variant is more contagious and has a faster spread and can lead to an increase in the number of cases that require hospitalization.
Dr. Al Khal affirmed that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective against the new variant according to the studies carried out by manufacturers, however he stressed the importance of adhering to the preventive measures on an ongoing basis.
Meanwhile, Dr. Al Khal underlined that it has not yet been proven that schools contribute to the spread of infection in the community.
He noted that although children do not have severe complications due to the coronavirus, they can transmit the infection to their families. He said that most infections among children occur due to social gatherings, therefore parents must make sure that their children do not mix with their friends or relatives during the vacation.
He noted that with the mid-term vacation approaching and the holy month of Ramadan nearing, the community must not make these occasions a cause for the spread of the virus, explaining that the Ministry of Public Health will continue monitoring epidemiological indicators and if it sees any noticeable increase in the number of cases during the coming days and weeks, it will likely impose more restrictions.
Responding to a question about when to a satisfactory vaccination percentage against COVID-19 can be attained, Dr. Al Khal said that the national program for vaccination against COVID -19, which was developed by the Ministry of Health, extends over the course of 2021, but there are intensive efforts by the Ministry of Health to accelerate the pace of implementing the national plan by providing the largest possible amount of vaccines at the earliest possible opportunity, which will allow the Ministry to increase the number of vaccination doses administered on a daily basis. If the quantities are available faster than expected, we hope that by the summer a large proportion of the population will get the vaccine, he said.
Asked about the continuation of the vaccination campaign during the month of Ramadan and the possibility of getting vaccinated while fasting, Dr. Al Khal hoped that everyone will be keen to get the vaccine even before Ramadan if they are among the currently eligible groups for the vaccine, pointing out that the period of Ramadan must be used to accelerate the pace of vaccinations because that will help cover a larger proportion of the population.
He explained that taking vaccination during fasting does not generally break the fast of its recipient, because the vaccination is not administered intravenously, but rather in the muscles, and therefore no one should hesitate during fasting to get vaccinated.
On the evidence and indicators that may lead to the imposition of more measures and restrictions, Dr. Al Khal explained that the Ministry of Health is following up a number of important indicators that monitor the virus and its spread in society, the most important of which are hospital admissions and intensive care admissions, which constitute a burden on the health sector in addition to indicators of the percentage of positive daily examinations, and the virus proliferation index, or what is known as the virus reproduction factor, RT.
He explained that these are the most important indicators, and if it continues to increase more than it is. Then, it means that we were not able to flatten the curve, but in the event that it began to decrease, that means that the efforts, measures and restrictions imposed now have succeeded in flattening the curve.
If these indicators continue to increase steadily, this may prompt the Ministry of Public Health to recommend imposing more restrictions in order to limit the spread of the virus, he said, explaining that if new restrictions are imposed, it will be for a limited period of two to four weeks, and then it will be reviewed once. In the event that it is proven to have had an effect and the pandemic begins to recede, restrictions will be gradually lifted.
For his part, Head of Intensive Care at HMC Dr. Ahmed Al Mohammed said that the increase in the number of COVID-19 infections resulted in more cases requiring admission to the hospital and treatment. In January, less than 40 cases per day required hospitalization, while currently, between 80 and 100 cases are admitted to hospitals daily.
He also noted an increase in the number of cases who need intensive care, which reached 120 cases in all ICUs in all HMC hospitals, requiring an increase in the number of beds in the ICUs.
He said that a precautionary plan is available at the current stage, and HMC is ready for any emergency. At the level of health care, a number of hospitals have been allocated, the most important of which are Hazm Mebaireek General Hospital, the Communicable Disease Center, Mesaieed Hospital, Ras Laffan and the Cuban Hospital. The capacity of these hospitals is now - with the increase in cases - from 60 to 70 percent at the regular health care level and about 60 to 70 percent at the intensive care level.
He stressed that anyone needs treatment will find it, whether regular treatment or treatment in intensive care, which is something that is being worked on continuously in conjunction with work and preparation to receive cases regardless of their numbers, affirming that with the plans set, the situation is currently under control.
He noted that it has been noticed recently that the development of infection in a patient with coronavirus is faster than it was in the past, and it may take a longer period of treatment in the hospital, and this is due to the mutation of the virus itself. Recently, it has appeared that those infected have more sever symptoms, as patients stay for a longer time in the hospital, especially in intensive care.
He noted that the new variants of the virus infect the body more severely, and it was noticed when following up patients who were previously infected and recovered that they develop symptoms in what is called post-COVID syndrome, especially in people with chronic diseases or weak immunity, or the elderly over 60 years, where they show severe coughing that is difficult to treat, feeling short of breath, general fatigue and the inability to concentrate. Therefore, He stressed the importance of maintaining high-level of prevention, calling for taking the vaccine.