Coronavirus: Riding the wave

Ahmed Morsy , Sunday 3 Oct 2021

Health Minister Hala Zayed said last weekend that the peak of the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic would arrive in three or four weeks.

Coronavirus: Riding the wave
Vaccination of students is at full throttle

“We can minimise the impact of the fourth wave if we inoculate half a million citizens daily,” Zayed said. Less than 15 per cent of Egypt’s 102 million population has so far received vaccine shots. 

There has been a steady increase in coronavirus infections since the beginning of August, with 702 cases detected on Monday.

 “Given new strains, and the existence of antibodies in millions of citizens either as a result of vaccination or due to previous infection, the length and characteristics of the fourth wave are likely to differ from previous waves,” Ashraf El-Fiky, a US-based clinical research and vaccine safety expert, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The fourth peak will likely be a plateau and last longer than before.” 

Islam Anan, a Pharmacoepidemiology and pharmaeconomics lecturer at Misr International University, said that despite the high rate of vaccination in countries where the fourth wave has already hit, there has been a marked increase in infection rates.

“The Delta and Delta Plus variants have reduced the efficacy of almost all vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna’s effectiveness are down to 88 from 95 per cent, Astrazeneca’s has fallen to 76 per cent, Sinopharm is down to 57 per cent and Sinovac to 51 per cent,” Anan told the Weekly.

Anan warns that the mortality rate of the fourth wave will only be held in check if Egypt vaccinates 20 per cent of its population by October, with priority given to the elderly and those with chronic diseases.

Egypt reported 37 Cocid-linked deaths on Monday, the highest since 21 June.

In order to push forward the vaccination campaign, on 16 September the Health Ministry launched the Maan Natmaen (Together we are reassured) mobile campaign which has so far helped 45,460 people register on the ministry’s vaccination website.  The campaign is also addressing the problems of citizens who have already registered but have yet to receive an appointment to be vaccinated. 

With the 2021-22 academic year in national schools due to start on 9 October fear is mounting that the virus will spread among students who will then take it home. 

“The Delta variant causes more infections in children compared to the Alfa variant. When the school year started in the US higher infection rates were recorded in states that have low vaccination rates among children aged 12+ years,” says El-Fiky.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the August 2021 rate of infections among children was nearly double last year’s, although according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 million US children, representing 55 per cent of 12-17 year-olds, have received at least one dose vaccine.

“In Egypt, the first defence remains the vaccination of adults and teachers, and should include the vaccination of children, especially preparatory and secondary students, as a condition for starting in-class education,” says El-Fiky.

While more than 3.4 million employees of the Ministry of Education have been vaccinated, students less than 18 years old have so far been excluded from the vaccination campaign.

El-Fiky says schools will be safe if precautionary measures are followed and random swabs are taken from teachers and students. 

Anan agrees, adding that a hybrid system should be conducted to allow students with symptoms to follow lessons online.

In March 2020, schools and universities suspended in-person classes in the wake of rising daily infections, since when most students have remained at home.

On Thursday Zayed said the Health Ministry plans to vaccinate all high school and preparatory school students once VACSERA’s second vaccine production line begins working. The line, which is due to be inaugurated in four weeks, will raise Egypt’s total production capacity of vaccines to one million doses per day.

On Saturday, Higher Education Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar said it will have vaccinated its own employees, faculty members, and 20 per cent of university students by 9 October, and students will not be admitted to rooms in university dormitories before they are vaccinated. Students who refuse the vaccine will be required to undergo a weekly PCR test to be allowed to attend classes. 

As of Tuesday, Egypt had obtained 35 million vaccine doses, including donations from European countries of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In July, Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination, recommended that people who have received a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine switch to a different vaccine for their second shot. The decision came after the AstraZeneca vaccine was linked to extremely rare blood clots in younger people.

The AstraZeneca vaccine does not appear on Germany’s purchasing schedule for next year, Reuters confirmed in July. In the same month the German local news portal Merkur reported that thousands of AstraZeneca vaccine doses, which have a shelf life of six months, were set to be destroyed.

In July, Netherlands Times reported that tens of thousands of AstraZeneca vaccines in the refrigerators of Dutch general practitioners will likely end up being destroyed. 

“Large quantities of vaccines are being stored until their expiry date and then destroyed,” says Anan. “This is selfish, and unjustifiable.” 

In September the EU reached its target milestone of 70 per cent full vaccination of the bloc’s adult population. According to AP, however, COVAX — the vaccine sharing scheme — has missed almost all of its vaccine-sharing targets and managers have now lowered their target of shipping two billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021 to 1.4 billion.

Lower-income countries, especially in Africa, are struggling to vaccinate the most vulnerable members of their populations. Last summer, thousands of vaccine doses were destroyed in African countries because they had exceeded their expiry dates. Others are being returned by countries that say they will be unable to use them before they expire, according to the BBC.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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