A second wave of COVID-19: Egypt bracing for new vaccine

Reem Leila , Saturday 14 Nov 2020

Health officials continue to call for precautionary measures as optimism grows over a coronavirus vaccine

Riding out a second wave
photo: Reuters

Health officials have assured the public that Egypt will be among the first countries to get the Pfizer vaccine once it is fully approved. Pfizer, the US multinational pharmaceutical corporation company, in collaboration with Germany’s BioNTech, announced on 9 November that an early analysis of its third phase coronavirus vaccine trial suggested the vaccine was over 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19.

Pfizer said the new vaccine includes two doses, administered with a three-week interval between each shot. Protection against the virus occurs 28 days after taking the vaccine.

Gehan Al-Assal, deputy head of the Health Ministry’s Scientific Committee to Combat Coronavirus, said that when Pfizer completes the third phase of Covid-19 testing Egypt will be among the first countries to get the vaccine. “Pfizer has to demonstrate the vaccine’s effectiveness on patients, its side effects, and its impact on patients with chronic underlying conditions,” said Al-Assal.

Though the vaccine has been approved by the World Health Organisation it has not yet been approved by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After FDA approval, which is expected to take place within the coming days, Egypt will immediately receive the vaccine, said Al-Assal.

The companies say they plan to submit an application for emergency use to the FDA by the third week of this month. According to Khaled Megahed, official spokesman to the Ministry of Health, Egypt will be among the first countries to receive any vaccine with proven effectiveness, whether produced by Pfizer, the Chinese, or Russians.

“The government has contracted for 30 million doses to be delivered as a first batch,” said Megahed. He noted, however, that it is still too early to determine what kind of vaccine Egypt will use. “The Chinese vaccine has been tried now on more than 45,000 Egyptian volunteers and the results are promising,” he said.

Clinical trials of the vaccine being developed by the Chinese company Sinopharm started in Egypt in September. The trials are being conducted in cooperation with the Chinese government and the UAE healthcare company G42. Egypt’s Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) said it will produce the vaccine once it is licensed. Egypt earlier abandoned the Russian Sputnik vaccine due to safety concerns. Unlike the Russian vaccine, the Chinese vaccine has been produced under the WHO.

“Priority recipients of any coronavirus vaccine whose effectiveness has been proven will include medical staff, health workers, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic and immunodeficiency diseases,” said Megahed.

The start of the winter season, combined with lax adoption of precautionary measures, has seen the number of Covid-19 infections increase in Egypt.

Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed held a press conference on 8 November to announce preparations to confront a second wave of infections.  Zayed said Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh are the governorates most affected by the coronavirus. According to Health Ministry data, Helwan district ranks first in terms of new infections, followed by Nasr City, Matareya, Marg, and Sahel. Nozha, Heliopolis, Old Cairo and Moqattam are among the districts registering the lowest increases. Among governorates, the Red Sea, New Valley, South Sinai, Assiut and Daqahliya have the lowest infection rates.

Zayed stressed the importance of wearing face masks, washing hands with soap and water regularly, avoiding crowded places and maintaining social distancing, especially in closed spaces.

For the time being, she said, there are no plans to close schools. “In the event of a student becoming infected the ministry’s inspection team will follow up on the case and report to the concerned authorities after which a decision might be taken to close down particular classes. Only in the most severe circumstances will we consider shutting down an entire school,” said Zayed.

According to Zayed, ministry data reveals that the Covid-19 infection rate among students before the beginning of the academic year was the same as during the first three weeks of the academic year.  

During the conference the Health Minister called on businesses to allow employees to work from home wherever possible, and to use electronic payment methods to reduce the circulation of cash, and announced that restaurants, cafés and similar businesses found not to be abiding by the recommended precautionary measures could be closed for three days.

Al-Assal estimates citizens who have survived the virus in Egypt at more than 92 per cent. “Although the number of new Covid-19 infections is growing they are generally mild and it is not anticipated that the virus’ second wave will be more dangerous than the first.”

Treatment protocols for patients suffering from Covid-19 are being updated for the fourth time since the first cases were reported in Egypt in February. “A new protocol will be announced within the next few days, once it is approved by the concerned authorities. New medicines have been introduced, and medication timings amended,” said Al-Assal.

Meanwhile, Megahed stressed that the ministry is well prepared for any second wave, with enhanced capacity at 45 chest and fever hospitals.

According to the WHO Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, the number infections in the region exceeds 2.6 million, and more than 66,000 deaths have been reported. Eighty per cent of recorded coronavirus infections are among those aged 20 or above, and 65 per cent among people living in houses with poor ventilation.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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