In Cairo’s Nasr City, one of the largest vaccination centers in the Middle East
Vaccines are not equitably distributed in the world. An unfair situation, currently discussed among the G7, which has an impact on many countries, including in Egypt which has scaled up its vaccination capacity in the past months.
In Cairo’s Nasr City, north-east of the capital, sits one of the largest COVID-19 vaccination centers of Egypt. Inaugurated mid-May 2021 by Prime minister Mostafa Madbouly and Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed, this large, modern infrastructure, located next to the Cairo International Convention Center, has the capacity to vaccinate a whopping 10,000 people daily
It is organized in 96 clinics, where 3 persons swiftly handle every patient who comes to receive the vaccine. First, an administration officer records the personal information and checks eligibility. Second, a doctor discusses with the patient his or her medical history. This will notably guide the choice of vaccine to be administered. Third, a nurse who gives the vaccine doses. “I showed them the registration SMS once I arrived, they gave me a number and I went straight to a clinic. It barely took me a few minutes to take the vaccine from the moment I arrived” said Amal, a Cairene lady who insisted that she registered for the vaccine “To protect others before myself.”
Egypt has scaled up its vaccination capacity in the past months, opening 408 vaccination sites across the country which have the capacity to vaccinate thousands of people per day. The number of people who have received at least one dose is more than 2.3 million, 2% of Egypt’s population. Interestingly, Egypt is also among the few countries where vaccination is offered not only to Egyptians, but to all people in Egypt, including refugees and migrants. Egypt is putting in practice the principle according to which no one is safe until everyone is safe by actively engaging refugees, migrants and other non-Egyptians in the vaccination.
However, like many other countries, Egypt faces a shortage of vaccine. The world has a lot of vaccines, but currently, less than 1% of global supply is reaching people in low and middle-income countries. It is expected that 60% of the world’s population - 4.68 billion people – will not have access to a COVID-19 vaccine until 2022 or beyond. Global solidarity and an equitable distribution of vaccines, is needed more than ever, if we want to bring the pandemic under control. Otherwise, the virus will continue its journey from one part of the globe to another, new variants will continue to appear, and precious lives and time will be lost.
UNICEF and many others are calling for donations of surplus vaccines from G7 nations. New data analysis from Airfinity* (the life sciences research facility), commissioned by the UK National Committee for UNICEF, indicates that G7 nations and the ‘Team Europe’ group of European Union Member States could donate around 153 million vaccine doses if they donated just 20 per cent of their available supply over the coming months.
Fortunately, Egypt has received vaccines doses from COVAX, a global partnership designed to achieve vaccine equity. Egypt received the first tranche of COVAX vaccines on the 31st of March, the first shipment was 854,400 doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine (SK BIO) and on the 13th of May Egypt received 1.77 million doses of the initial commitment totaling 4.3 million doses by June 2021. These doses helped to vaccinate healthcare workers, the elderly and people with comorbidities and we hope that the COVAX facility will be able to deliver far greater quantities over the coming months thanks to the extraordinary efforts and contributions from the COVAX donors.
“The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating all around the world, particularly for the poorest families in low and middle income countries. Accelerating equitable access to the vaccine is of paramount importance. For UNICEF in Egypt, vaccines are helping to ensure that the most vulnerable families are protected and able to be an active part of the recovery at community level. Children have suffered inordinately over the last year as schooling and access to basic services have been severely disrupted, and with unmeasurable impact on mental health and wellbeing”, said Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Representative in Egypt.
Current vaccine supply is not sufficient to cover the vaccination needs in Egypt and thus the vaccination centers cannot operate at full capacity, which would, in turn, alleviate the strain on the health system. In the Nasr City vaccination center, we meet with Captain Mostafa Younis, a former football player from the famous Al-Ahly club who came to take his first dose at the center: “The government is racing to treat COVID-19 patients. It’s everybody’s responsibility to get vaccinated and reduce the burden on the health system”
Anticipating the shortage of vaccines, Egypt has also started working with several manufacturers to produce the vaccine in-country, aiming to become a production hub in the region. It is by following these different paths of vaccine procurement and production that Egypt has been able to handle the pressure caused by vaccine scarcity. The local production of vaccines is a sustainable solution. However, it will take time until the production lines are up and running. In the meantime, the fairest and most effective approach is a global approach and an equitable distribution of the vaccine to ensure that those who need it most get it first and that we leave no one behind.