Egypt on Thursday began its Covid-19 vaccination programme for the elderly and those with chronic illnesses who registered with the Ministry of Health’s designated website.
The number of people getting the vaccination on the first day was 1,141, receiving either the Chinese Sinopharm jab or that of the Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Sinopharm’s shot relies on a tested technology, using a dead virus to deliver the vaccine, like polio immunisations. Egypt has 20 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.
Egypt is also providing 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 15 million people.
While Sinopharm vaccinations are taken in two jabs three weeks apart, the Oxford Astra Zeneca shots are administered three months apart.
In mid-January, the Health Ministry started vaccinating medical staff in 363 coronavirus-designated hospitals.
Last week saw the beginning of the registration for eligible groups including healthcare workers, followed by the most vulnerable to infection — patients with chronic illnesses — and the elderly.
For most of last year, Mohamed Sami, 63, who is diabetic and suffers from hypertension, was worried about getting infected with the coronavirus, until the Ministry of Health and Population announced the launching of a website last week to enable citizens to reserve online.
“I immediately registered on the website. A few days later I received a message on my mobile notifying me of the place and date of getting the vaccine’s first dose,” Sami said.
Sami will be getting the Sinopharm whose safety, according to him, “has been scientifically certified. Many people had participated in clinical tests before we were vaccinated. I believe the Chinese vaccine will protect me, as the government won’t risk our health,” he added.
Mervat Mahrous, 65, a pensioner, shares Sami’s optimistic outlook, saying she believes the vaccine would protect her as she suffers from chronic diseases. “If I got infected with the coronavirus after I got vaccinated, the symptoms will be so mild it would be like the common cold,” Mahrous said.
However, not all Egyptians agree with that assessment. Some are still apprehensive about the vaccines amid concerns surrounding their safety for the elderly and those with chronic diseases — the two groups that the current phase of the vaccination targets.
This is reflected in the number of applicants for the vaccine. According to Spokesman of the Ministry of Health Khaled Megahed, although the targeted group in the first phase was around 20 million Egyptians, only 152,892 had registered on the website by Monday.
Megahed noted that although the ministry had given priority to health workers to get the vaccine to protect them, more than 40 per cent of 10,000 healthcare providers refused to get the jab.
Samar Abdel-Razek, who has kidney failure and is thus among the most vulnerable group, said she opted not to take the vaccine. “Not before some time has passed and I see with my own eyes that people with chronic diseases can survive the side effects, if any,” Abdel-Razek said.
Islam Anan, professor of health economics and epidemiology, said that the percentage of the public and doctors who registered for the vaccine is extremely low due to the lack of knowledge and awareness about the vaccines and their consequences on one’s health.
Many senior Health Ministry officials interviewed in several TV talk shows last week said the probability of a vaccine causing adverse reactions or death was extremely low and significantly lower than the probability of getting seriously ill from contracting the virus.
The Ministry of Health and Population has allocated 40 centres across the country for the public to receive the vaccines. There are three centres in Cairo governorate, two in Giza, two in Alexandria, two in Qalioubiya, and one each in Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Suez, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Sharqiya, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, the Red Sea, New Valley, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Marsa Matrouh, Damietta, Daqahliya, Beheira, Port Said, Gharbiya, Menoufiya, Ismailia, and South Sinai.
By 8 March Egypt had reported 187,094 coronavirus cases and 11,038 related deaths.
Presidential adviser for health affairs Mohamed Awad Tageddin said on Tuesday Egypt is seeing a sharp decline in coronavirus infections though there are new cases, which he said necessitates the continuity of taking all relevant precautionary measures.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly