Beyond bureaucracy: The UAE and Israel top vaccine roll-out charts

Dustin W. Seale is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and managing partner of Heidrick Consulting in Europe. He focuses on CEO and board advisory, specifically on improving leadership and talent, and transforming organizations through culture. In addition to his leadership role in Heidrick Consulting, he is part of the leadership team for Heidrick & Struggles in EMEA and the EMEA CEO & Board of Directors Practice. Dustin’s experience spans a broad range of industries, including, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, automotive, banking, consumer goods, technology, and others.

There are lessons for nations and businesses to be learned from the United Arab Emirates' and Israel's response to COVID-19 pandemic

  

One of the ongoing puzzles of the global pandemic response has been the plight of Europe and North America. Home to some of the world’s most developed economies, these continents have nonetheless seen amongst the worst effects of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, in the United Arab Emirates and Israel, case rates and deaths have been lower while the countries top the charts in terms of vaccination rollouts globally. The UAE and Israel, each with populations of around nine million, have succeeded where many countries worldwide are struggling.

What can other nations, and also businesses, learn from their response? 

The impact of an ambitious vaccination rollout in the UAE 

While Europe and the US waited for regulatory approval for vaccines approved in the West, the UAE has successfully vaccinated much of its population using China’s SinoVac. Smaller quantities of the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine have been given to more vulnerable groups.

The royal family has shown leadership with regard to the vaccine. In November, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum took part in clinical trials for vaccines. Meanwhile, his son Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management visited vaccination centres to offer support to frontline workers and encourage the population to take the vaccine. 

Israel’s innovative approach to vaccine rollout

In Israel, the Prime Minister became the first person in the country to receive the vaccine, receiving his vaccination live on television to encourage other Israelis to get vaccinated.

The country struck a deal with Pfizer BioNTech to receive a fast-tracked batch of vaccinations in exchange for anonymised age, gender and demographic data. While some regarded this quid-pro-quo as controversial, it’s likely that other countries would give this option serious consideration now the results are being seen.

Israel used its military to assist with the rollout, as well as competing healthcare providers.  The government took a flexible approach, and set up vaccination centres in stadiums, parking lots and school playgrounds.

The largest healthcare provider in Israel has reported a 94% drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections among 600,000 people who received two doses of the Pfizer’s vaccine in the country’s biggest study to date.

The Spirit of Unity in the UAE 

Despite seeing severe consequences from the Christmas holidays, Dubai has balanced the need for pandemic measures with keeping their economy open better than most.

A huge emphasis has been placed on unity as crucial to defeating the virus. A sense of togetherness and a spirit of cooperation has been a defining feature of the pandemic. They have put society first and made a commitment to the health and wellbeing of the community as a whole.

Even as other restrictions have been lifted, mask-wearing in public places is still mandated and has not resulted in the backlash seen in other parts of the world. Restaurants and cafes remain open, despite limited capacity and opening hours. Dubai residents can go to the mall or the beach, see friends, and are generally enjoying far greater freedoms than their counterparts in Europe.

What can other countries and organizations learn?

While smaller countries pose smaller logistical issues than those with vast geographies and massive populations, there are a number of lessons that can be learned from them for all. These takeaways are also valuable and relevant for businesses.

  • Leadership: In an age of misinformation and fake news, leadership is crucial. The moves the leaders of the UAE and Israel took to reassure their citizens undoubtedly assisted in the widespread take-up of the vaccine; they led by example.
  • Speedy decision-making: In crisis scenarios, layers of bureaucracy are an impediment. Governments worldwide should consider how this impacted responses that were often slow and ineffectual. The UAE and Israel moved quickly and utilised the military.

  • Innovation: Embracing SinoVac and agreeing to share data with Pfizer were both bold decisions not without risk - risks that most Western countries chose not to take. After the fact, these risks ultimately seem to have paid off handsomely.
  • Unity / Community: The cohesive society embraced within the UAE has allowed them to make change on a national level and to pivot on a number of occasions during the pandemic. Unity has given the population the ability to navigate difficult times together.

In the last two decades, we’ve dealt with SARS, MERS, and Ebola, amongst others, and most recently COVID-19. It is time for all governments to ensure they have a comprehensive strategy in place for any outbreak that occurs in the future. Alongside this, there are lessons to be learnt on a smaller scale by businesses regarding crisis management.

© Opinion 2021

Any opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own

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