Egypt has increased efforts to inoculate its 100 million people against Covid-19, including at-home vaccination for ill people and paving the way for local vaccine production.
About 1.6 million people in Egypt had received at least one vaccine dose as of Sunday, with only 0.3 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.
After a slow start to the programme, which began with healthcare workers at the end of January, the pace has increased in the past month.
Almost 600,000 vaccinations were given between May 9 and May 23 amid a third wave of the virus in the country.
"With the current efforts that are being made in expanding the vaccination capacity, I think it should be possible for Egypt to catch up with other countries – with a lot of effort, though," Ayman Sabae, health researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told The National.
People with diseases that impede their movement, such as paralysis and multiple sclerosis, can now receive coronavirus vaccinations at home, the Egyptian Ministry of Health said on Wednesday.
Those with limited mobility because of old age or other reasons will be provided with ambulances to take them to the nearest vaccination centres.
People must still register on the government website, launched on February 28, to make an appointment before requesting at-home vaccination on the hotline or an ambulance through emergency services.
There are 400 vaccination centres throughout the country, including the Cairo International Convention Centre, which began distributing vaccines this month with the ability to inoculate more than 10,000 people a day.
Meanwhile, large vaccine orders have been rolling in this month, including 1.7 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the Covax initiative.
There were also two shipments of Chinese company Sinopharm's vaccine doses, totalling one million.
Egypt has so far received 2.6 million AstraZeneca doses and several shipments from Sinopharm, bringing the total to about five million.
On Friday, the country received the first shipment of raw materials used to make Sinovac's vaccine, under an agreement signed with China.
Egyptian vaccine maker Vacsera plans to produce the first 2 million doses by the end of June and 40 million doses by the end of the year.
“There are four developments in the last couple of weeks that have happened that I believe are positive,” Mr Sabae said.
He is also chief executive of Shamseya, a social enterprise that helps people around Egypt’s health system.
Mr Sabae said the positive steps include increasing the number and capacity of vaccination centres; focusing on inoculating workers in the tourism and aviation industry; vaccinating prisoners; and improving the vaccine registration process.
The Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Khaled El Enany, said Egypt was on track to announce the complete vaccination of Egyptian tourism workers in South Sinai and the Red Sea by the end of this month.
The Egyptian Airports Company began vaccinating its employees this week as part of a wider push to support the tourism sector’s recovery before the summer season begins.
Almost all inmates in Egyptian prisons have been given the first vaccine dose through a campaign that started two weeks ago, assistant interior minister Tareq Marzouq said on Monday.
“This was an important development because it was a direct response to pressure from civil society,” Mr Sabae said.
The Health Ministry has streamlined vaccine registration, such as giving appointments with a specific time instead of just a date, to avoid overcrowding.
Mr Sabae said two negative aspects that still need to be addressed are the lack of reliable data on the extent of the coronavirus spread in Egypt and insufficient awareness on the importance of taking the vaccine.
“Already we know that the daily numbers are completely unrelated to reality and everybody understands this, including the Ministry of Health,” he said.
The latest official figures, released on Wednesday, show 1,140 new cases and 49 deaths over the previous 24 hours.
More than 256,124 cases of Covid-19 and 14,807 deaths have been recorded in Egypt since the pandemic began.
But the Health Ministry figures are widely believed to be a small fraction of the actual numbers due to limited testing and the exclusion of private laboratory test results.
“On the one hand, they are saying the situation is critical … yet the numbers do not reflect that,” Mr Sabae said. "The messaging is inconsistent.
“Still, we do not see sufficient health promotion and awareness-raising communication regarding the vaccine and its necessity."