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Updated 26 April 2021

Saudi Arabia, along with the rest of the world, is still battling the pandemic and its rising cases. While the COVID situation in Saudi Arabia is generally under control, the country is hoping to back to normal post-COVID life soon enough with the advent of the vaccination program.

Here is everything you need to know about the AstraZeneca vaccine in Saudi Arabia.

How does the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine work?

The ChAdOx1 COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University in conjunction with the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca is based on the virus’s genetic instructions for building the spike protein, which are stored using double-stranded DNA.

In simpler terms, it is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus, called adenovirus, from chimpanzees and has been modified to look more like coronavirus. It requires two doses, given four weeks apart, to prime the immune system to fight off the coronavirus. The first jab prompts the immune system to start making antibodies while the second one strengthens the immune response, thus priming the body against coronavirus.

This vaccine is to be administered only to individuals above the age of 18 years, as its safety has not been assessed in children and teenagers.


How effective is it?

The peer-reviewed results of the Phase-III trials of the vaccine show that it is up to 90% effective. Out of the 11,636 adults who had volunteered for the trials, only 131 (1.1%) had symptomatic COVID-19 more than 14 days after receiving the second dose, indicating a vaccine efficacy of 70%.

The results also revealed that the vaccine was only 62% effective when participants were given two full doses, but its efficacy rose to 90% when a half dose followed by a full dose was administered.

Note that these figures are low when put up against the Pfizer shots, which have a 95% effectiveness. However, the trials of the two vaccines were conducted in different ways, so the results are not directly comparable.

Like other COVID-19 vaccines, there is still no evidence to suggest that the Oxford vaccine will not be effective against the new strain.


Does it have any side effects?

The AstraZeneca vaccine does have a few side effects, but they are mostly mild to moderate in nature. Over-the-counter pills or an appointment with a general physician are likely to resolve them in a few days after the inoculation.

They include tenderness, pain, warmth, redness, itching, swelling or bruising, feeling unwell, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, nausea, joint pain and muscle ache.

The vaccine might trigger allergic reactions like itchy skin rash, shortness of breath and swelling of the face or tongue. So, if you have a history of allergies, it is advisable to consult with a doctor whether you should go ahead with the vaccination.

Furthermore, as clarified by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), there have indeed been reports concerning thrombosis and low platelets associated with the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. However, the SFDA has since assured that these reports have been thoroughly and systematically examined and not a single case of immune platelet deficiency and blood clotting associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine has been confirmed.

The SFDA does recommend postponing the administering of the vaccine for people who suffer from unstable diseases which require a fundamental change in the treatment plan or required hospitalization during the six weeks prior to the date of administration of the vaccine.


AstraZeneca vaccination in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has obtained 3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the start of February. AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are the two approved vaccines being administered to eligible Saudi citizens and residents. 

As of April 2021, more than 7 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia.  


Who are eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine?

The vaccination campaign in Saudi Arabia adopts a three-tier approach as follows.

  • The first tier will see people most at risk of the disease prioritized for the jab along with those with chronic ailments or at a high risk of infection.
  • The second tier is reserved for those aged over 50.
  • The third tier will vaccinate everyone else.


Where do I get the AstraZeneca shots in Saudi Arabia?

The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being administered at all vaccination centers set up in Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Region.


Registering for the jabs

Eligible citizens can book their vaccination appointments through the Sehaty app.

  • Enter the (Sehaty) App link on Google Play or Apple Store.
  • Register your data.
  • Click on (Corona Vaccine) to submit your request to receive the vaccine.
  • Your eligibility to receive the vaccine is evaluated according to the information entered.

You’ll be notified about your vaccination centre once you’ve completed the registration process.


How much will the Pfizer vaccine cost?

The Saudi authorities announced back in Movember that the vaccination jabs will be provided free of charge to everyone living in the country.