Egypt begins COVID-19 vaccination drive with frontline medical staff

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt began vaccinating frontline medical staff against COVID-19 on Sunday using the jab developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

The vaccine will be provided free of charge first to all doctors and frontline workers treating coronavirus patients, then to other medical workers, senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses, Health Minister Hala Zayed said.

“As soon as each citizen registers, they will take their turn. But you cannot set a timeframe for when this will be, and even the countries that have set a timeframe have not been able to fulfil it, not because they have a problem, but because of the global production issue,” Zayed said, adding that Egypt was on track to approve three other vaccines for use.

Egypt has recorded a total of 161,143 cases, including 8,902 deaths, since the pandemic started. Health officials say the real number of infections is likely far higher because of the relatively low rate of coronavirus testing and exclusion of private test results from official figures.

Zayed previously said Egypt was expecting 40 million doses via the GAVI vaccine alliance, covering 20 million of the country’s 100 million population.

She said on Sunday the country had secured an additional 40 million vials from one company and 20 million from another, without specifying their origin but bringing the total to 100 million doses.

Abdel Moneim Selim, an intensive care unit doctor and the first to receive the Sinopharm jab, said any risk from the vaccine was lower than the risk of exposure at work.

“I believe (my exposure) is more dangerous than any vaccine you will take, whether it be the Russian or Chinese, or any other vaccine,” he said.

“If you have the opportunity to take something safe that is scientifically proven, I think that is a good opportunity.”

Reporting by Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Fahmy; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis