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Dubai introduces WhatsApp vaccine appointment bookings

Dubai residents can now make use of an additional method to book their COVID-19 vaccine appointment – the emirate’s health authority has just launched a new booking facility via its official WhatsApp line.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) confirmed that the new service “utilises artificial intelligence [AI] to facilitate the booking of appointments,” and is part of DHA’s “vision to adopt advanced technologies in the healthcare sector across all aspects.”

Prior to the introduction of this option, residents could book their vaccine appointment either by telephone or via the official DHA smartphone app.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been more important than ever before to connect the public with official sources of accurate health information,” said Ramez Shehadi, managing director at Facebook MENA. “We are pleased to be able to partner with the DHA to help provide the community in Dubai with a quick and simple way to book their essential vaccines via WhatsApp.” 

Facebook acquired WhatsApp in February 2014.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

In order to access the service, a user has to add 800 342 to their contacts, and then send the word “hi” to the number in a new WhatsApp window. The automated chatbot, which is available to access 24/7, would then offer the bookings option. A user must be able to provide their Medical Record Number (MRN) in order to book.

The chatbot then provides a choice of vaccination centres to choose from, along with dates and timings.

Whilst the United Arab Emirates (UAE) currently has four vaccines approved for use – Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V – the DHA currently only shows appointments for Pfizer-BioNTech.

Earlier today, it was confirmed that Dubai has started to provide the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 12-15 year olds.

Meanwhile, last month the UAE announced it was to provide a third shot to recipients of the Sinopharm vaccine, six months after the initial two doses regimen. This reportedly made the Gulf country the first worldwide to formally introduce the booster.

DHA’s WhatsApp service was initially launched in order to keep the community updated on developments relating to COVID-19. According to the authority, the multilingual service has processed more than 150,000 COVID-19 enquiries to date.

In a statement by Facebook MENA, “WhatsApp has partnered with more than 150 national, state, and local governments as well as organisations like WHO and UNICEF, on COVID-19 helplines to connect its two billion users to accurate information and resources. 

“Over three billion messages have been sent across these global helplines in the past year.”

ON THE RECORD

“Through the use of AI technology and this additional channel to book an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine, we aim to provide community members with the utmost convenience. The new service will further bolster our vaccination drive,” said Fatma Al Khajah, director of DHA’s Customer Happiness Department.

According to Reuters, the UAE has among the world’s highest immunisation rates, with approximately two thirds of the population having already taken two doses of Pfizer-BioNtTech, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, or Sputnik V vaccines.

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