How Saudi Arabia is ensuring universal vaccination

The anti-vaxxers or those fervently opposed to taking a vaccine shot against the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is a considerable number. So much so, that it is a threat to the ‘herd immunity’ which grants the populace some element of safety if more than 70% of the residents have undergone the process.

But fuelled by some right-wing politicians and conspiracy theorists and drawing upon some of the rhetoric of the previous US president, these anti-vaxxers are dead set against any attempt by authorities to subject them to the needle. Organisations have been quickly formed with doctors, scientists and politicians decrying the forcible application of the vaccine on the American public, and undoubtedly this will become a volatile subject during the midterm US elections.

In Saudi Arabia, fortunately, the authorities suffer no fools as they have made it just about mandatory for everyone within certain age groups to get the vaccine and the government is providing it freely in centers across the country. Recently, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing amended existing laws for workers at restaurants, caf├ęs, food outlets, as well as those working in men’s barbershops and women’s beauty parlours. The ministry stated that workers in these businesses must get vaccinated against COVID-19, and last month the authorities started enforcing the decision for employees of such concerns.

To ramp up the pressure, if a worker failed to take a vaccine, a PCR test result showing non-infection of coronavirus is required to be submitted every seven days at the expense of the establishment where they are employed at. A similar directive was issued by the Sports Ministry applicable to workers of all gyms and sports centers across the Kingdom. If the workers fail to take the vaccination, they should submit a PCR test result at a gap of every seven days. Not to be outdone, the Public Transport Authority directed that all workers and drivers in public transport services, including trains and buses, must be immunised against the Covid-19 at any of the kingdom’s vaccine centers.

But that was not the end of it. The Ministry of Interior has decreed that starting from August 1 of this year, only individuals who are inoculated against COVID-19 with a vaccine approved in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to enter any government or private establishment or commercial facilities across the Kingdom. The coronavirus vaccinated status will be mandatory for entry to the following: all economic, commercial, cultural, entertainment, or sporting activities; all cultural, scientific, social or entertainment events; all governmental or private establishments; and all governmental or private educational facilities. The use of public transportation will be denied to those who have not been vaccinated.

Now that the summer holidays are nearing for many, the rules have even been tightened further on the anti-vaxxers. Early last month, the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and the Ministry of Health announced a series of travel guidelines and vaccine policies. Effective on May 17, Saudi citizens will be allowed to travel internationally if they are fully vaccinated, or have received the first dose of their vaccine 14 days before departure, or have recovered from a COVID-19 infection within the last six months. Saudi citizens under the age of 18 do not have to be vaccinated to travel but must provide evidence of travel insurance approved by the Saudi Central Bank before departure. Upon return to Saudi Arabia, citizens must undergo a seven-day home quarantine and take the PCR test on the last day of quarantine. Children under the age of 8 are exempt from the test. Non-Saudis will be required to submit a PCR test certificate within 72 hours before departing the country and a valid health insurance policy covering COVID-19 before and upon arrival in the Kingdom.

Now bear in mind that the situation of global travel is very fluid and restrictions and the easing thereof are changing every day in different corners of the world, but for the anti-vaxxers residing in the kingdom, the message has been broadcast long and hard.

Thus, anti-vaxxers will soon find that travel plans will not proceed unless they get vaccinated. The lure of a holiday abroad will dissipate any concerns over the threat of taking the vaccine or falling prey to the many theories surrounding Bill Gates, or magnetic chips being inserted in one’s body, or a ‘Deep State’s plan to take global control and eliminate half the world’s population. Such balderdash should be placed to rest.

In the face of maintaining control over the pandemic which the kingdom has successfully managed so far, these directives draconian as they may seem to some, are necessary for the interest of the majority.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena



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