Egypt launches Covid-19 vaccination campaign

Health workers given priority in country's push to immunise population against virus

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A doctor at a hospital treating coronavirus patients in Egypt’s Suez Canal city of Ismailia on Sunday became the first person in the nation to be vaccinated.

Dr Abdel Monaim Salim, who is in his 30s, was injected with the vaccine from Chinese company Sinopharm in Ismailia’s Abu Khalifa hospital, as Health Minister Hala Zayed looked on.

“I work at the hospital’s intensive care unit, where my chances of infection are greater than anyone else,” Dr Salim said after his vaccination.

“The vaccine is certainly less of a danger than what I am exposed to at work. I believe in and trust the vaccine.”

Ms Zayed, who has been the face of the government’s campaign to contain the virus since it hit last year, said medical staff dealing with Covid-19 patients were the top priority in the government’s vaccine campaign.

Next come medical staff handling non-Covid-19 patients and then elderly people with chronic or immunity-related conditions.

At least 300 doctors have died with Covid-19 since the outbreak in February last year, while at least 5,000 were infected with the deadly respiratory disease.

“We will never forget them. Their memory will forever be in our hearts,” Ms Zayed said.

Sunday’s vaccination came as the country was gripped by a second wave of the virus.

The Health Ministry has for the past week reported about 1,000 new infections daily and fewer than 60 fatalities.

But government officials and experts said that while the ministry’s figures were a reliable indicator of the curve, the cases might be 10 times those numbers.

Fearing an economic meltdown, the government is determined not to order a repeat of the March-July lockdown that battered the economy and hurt businesses.

Its message has chiefly centred around preventive measures such as wearing masks in crowded public places and keeping distance.

Egypt, home to more than 100 million people, took delivery of the Sinopharm vaccine in December and, Ms Zayed said, reserved as many as 100 million doses of this and other vaccines.

She said more vaccines were due to arrive in the next few days from various sources, but she gave no details.

Medical workers will receive the vaccination at their workplace, while ordinary Egyptians will receive it at centres in each of the country’s 27 provinces.

It will be given free of charge to Egyptians who cannot afford to pay and to wealthier people at a small fee, Ms Zayed said.

“Egypt today became the first nation in Africa to roll out a vaccination programme,” she said.

Cairo also held talks with representatives of several pharmaceutical companies producing coronavirus vaccines to make them locally, Ms Zayed said.

“We aim to meet our needs and export to the rest of Africa.”