Egyptians flock to first metro Covid vaccination booth

Health ministry says pop-up kiosks will be available at major metro and train stations as well as shopping malls

Dozens of Egyptians flocked to the first pop-up Covid-19 vaccination booth at Sadat metro station near Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, a day after Egypt’s health ministry said it would open vaccine centres at major mass transit stations and shopping malls.

Egypt has ramped up its vaccination campaign amid a fourth Covid wave and had set a deadline of November 15 for university students and civil servants to be vaccinated before returning to campus or the office.

There are plans to open 14 kiosks at metro stations in the Egyptian capital, including six in the transit stations Sadat, Al Shuhada and Ataba, as well as eight in other high-density stations along the three metro lines.

Major train stations and shopping malls will follow, said Dr Khalid Abdul Ghaffar, minister of higher education and scientific research and acting minister of health, on Sunday.

Sadat metro station was the only location available for vaccination on Monday and at 11am, the kiosk had yet to open as people waiting demanded information. Some hurriedly registered on the government website to receive their registration numbers, while others added their names to a handwritten list.

Usually citizens who register on the website have to wait for a confirmation message to proceed to a vaccination centre, but this is not the case for the pop-up kiosks.

At 11:15am, a loudspeaker announced that vaccination would be open from noon and shortly after, citizens were told to queue and wait their turns.

Martina Wadia, 27, said she decided to come to the booth because of a December 1 deadline, which stipulates that unvaccinated Egyptians will not be able to enter any government offices.

“Everyone in Egypt needs to go to government offices,” said Ms Wadia, an architect. “I had registered [on the government Covid vaccination website] in May and never got confirmation. So, there’s no other choice.”

Helwan University student Abdulla Said, 23, said he was turned away from campus in the morning and reluctantly made his way to the metro kiosk.

“I didn’t want to take the vaccine. The four or five vaccines that are available are not effective — that’s what I heard,” said Mr Said, who is in his third year of studying law.

“I’m fine as I am. You don’t know what the side effects will be.”

Saboura Ahmed, 68, was also worried about the side effects because she has high blood pressure and diabetes.

“I heard that people who are old and take the vaccine can react badly to it,” she said.

Her children encouraged her to be vaccinated after the government said that citizens should be inoculated by December. Her daughter helped her register a week ago and brought her to the metro station upon hearing the news of the pop-up booths.

“We heard it on TV last night,” she said. “I don’t know which vaccine it will be — I’ll take whatever is available.”

Egypt has secured several vaccine types, including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, Sinovac, Sputnik and most recently Pfizer and Moderna. The country is also locally producing China’s Sinovac through its Vacsera factory.

There are more than 1,000 vaccine centres throughout the country and this month, Egypt opened vaccination registration for people aged 15 to 18.

Still, only about 12 per cent of Egypt’s 104 million people have been fully vaccinated, Our World in Data showed. It has set a target of inoculating 40 million people by the end of the year.

The ministry reported 935 Covid-19 cases and 64 deaths on Sunday, bringing the total to 343,961 cases and about 19,500 deaths. The cases and deaths are likely to be much higher due to the exclusion of private lab results and limited testing.

About 500 people were vaccinated at the Sadat metro station when it opened on Saturday, the health ministry said.

It is unclear when the remaining pop-up booths will be operational. Shopping malls earmarked for the campaign include Cairo Festival City, City Stars, Siraj Mall, Mall of Arabia and Mall of Egypt.

The major train stations will include Ramses in Cairo, Giza, Sidi Jaber in Alexandria, and Minya and Qena in Upper Egypt, the health ministry said.

At Ramses train station on Monday, the booth was installed, but with no one manning it. A couple of people asked when it would open and were told by a security staff member that “it would take some time”.

The same was the case at nearby Al Shuhada metro station. An elderly man using a cane said he had come on Sunday to an empty booth and returned, hoping that it would be open. He then bought a metro ticket and left.

Updated: November 15th 2021, 5:16 PM