Tunisians appeased by start of vaccine rollout, worries persist

Hopes are pinned on the vaccine to save part of the next tourism season and allow a safer return home of expatriates during the summer.
Tuesday 16/03/2021
A Tunisian woman receives a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tunis, March 13, 2021. REUTERS
A Tunisian woman receives a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tunis, March 13, 2021. (REUTERS)

TUNIS--Tunisians seemed relieved with the start of vaccinations last Saturday but remain worried about the pace of immunisation as their country has been the last country in the Maghreb to launch its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which was due to begin a month ago. Morocco and Algeria launched their drives in late January.

Using 30,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which arrived on March 9, (some 200,000 further shots are expected dueing the next coming days), the programme began Saturday and Sunday with around 2,000 nurses, doctors and other health workers who are heavily exposed to the virus. The first shots were given on Saturday at the El Menzah vaccination centre in the capital Tunis.

This initial delivery is being used to vaccinate 15,000 health professionals, said Samir Abdelmoumen , a doctor who is part of the country’s coronavirus task force.

“With the vaccination launch, we are taking a very important step in the fight against this pandemic,” he said.

“We will give a message of hope to Tunisians and encourage them to get vaccinated.”

Social media reactions reflected that sense of hope. But there was criticism of the unruly atmosphere which marked the start of the vaccination drive.

“The organisers have learned from the chaos of the first day. Starting Sunday, social distancing was better respected,” a Tunisian medical doctor, preferring to remain anonymous, told The Arab Weekly as she was expecting her Sputnik V dose.

“What is reassuring is that organisers have developed a reliable registration and prioritisation platform. That is a step in the right direction for the rest of the campaign,” she added.

A further 94,000 vaccines, this time provided by Pfizer/BioNTech, are due to arrive from next week, while jabs produced by AstraZeneca are also expected soon, Abdelmoumen said.

“We are going to be much less stressed when we approach a coronavirus patient,” said Jalila Khelil, head of the intensive care unit at the Abderrahmen Mami Hospital. “Even if we catch the virus, we will suffer much less severe symptoms.”

A new variant of the virus is circulating in Tunisia, but initial analysis does not show it to be more dangerous or virulent than the original strain, according to the Pasteur Institute.

Tunisia, which has a population of 11.7 million, is the last country in the Maghreb region to launch its vaccination campaign.

Hopes are pinned on the vaccine to save part of the next tourism season and allow a safer return home of expatriates during the summer.

Confirmed deaths from the virus in Tunisia are currently running in the dozens per day, while total detected cases since the start of the pandemic stand at over 240,500, of whom more than 8,300 have died.