Tony Douglas may have become the first airline chief executive in the world to have received an officially approved COVID-19 vaccination after getting the jab at his airline’s own healthcare centre on Monday afternoon. The landmark moment came as Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways positions itself to become the first airline in the world to have vaccinated its entire workforce in an effort to revive its struggling business.
Douglas, who took over as Etihad chief executive in 2018 and was hoping to transform the multi-billion-dollar loss-making airline before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, received the Sinopharm vaccine which was developed in a collaboration between the Chinese biotech and an Abu Dhabi artificial intelligence startup.
Sinopharm recently revealed that the vaccine is 79 per cent effective although scientists didn’t reveal detailed results from ongoing Phase III trials. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the first country in the world to approve the vaccine which uses an inactive COVID-19 virus. China approved the vaccine for emergency use late last week.
The vaccine has already been used to inoculate hundreds of Etihad’s customer-facing employees including flight attendants after health officials approved the jab for use on frontline workers.
Workers have been receiving the shot since before November although the vaccination drive only came to light when an Etihad flight attendant who lost her job as a result of the pandemic presented her vaccination certificate to Australian border police when she returned to her native country.
Authorities in the UAE are making COVID-19 vaccines available free to all citizens and residents above the age of 18. Vulnerable and elderly people will be prioritised, although Douglas is only 57 years old and has no known connection with the healthcare sector.
“As we say goodbye to 2020, I wanted to start the new year by demonstrating my own confidence in Abu Dhabi’s National Vaccination Programme,” Douglas commented after receiving the first of two jabs that are required for immunity.
“While it offers the obvious benefit of being safeguarded against COVID-19, this is my way of contributing to a safer workplace and safer Abu Dhabi community,” he continued.
“From an aviation perspective, as borders continue to open up, we hope that through increased vaccination rates, people will feel more confident travelling not only for business and leisure but more importantly, to reconnect with their loved ones around the world.”
While the neighbouring emirate of Dubai reopened to almost all visitors in July 2020, Abu Dhabi had, until very recently, imposed some of the toughest border restrictions in the world. On December 24, the UAE’s capital relaxed quarantine rules for visitors from 16 countries and territories, although a negative PCR test is still required before departure and on arrival.
The emirate will also allow all UAE residents and citizens who have received both doses of an approved vaccine to enter without restriction no matter where in the world they are travelling from.
Etihad is making the vaccine available to all employees at its own healthcare centre meaning that the entire workforce could be inoculated within weeks so long as enough supplies are available.
The fully vaccinated airline could ease the worries of some nervous flyers but at this time there is still limited evidence on whether vaccination can actually prevent transmission of the virus.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.