Almost two years after COVID-19 first appeared, the world was finally starting to gain a grip on the pandemic. The U.A.E. recorded a 90% vaccination rate; Belgium over 75%; the U.S. over 60%. However, Egypt lagged behind at 20%.
While Egypt has picked up efforts in recent months, it now has to balance meeting its initial vaccination goals with giving booster shots that give immunity against the new Omicron strain.
Over the summer, Nader Saad, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told Al Hayah news channel that the goal is to vaccinate 50% of the population against COVID-19 by the end of 2021. However, according to World Health Organization figures reported by Our World in Data, as of the end of December about 20% of Egyptians are fully vaccinated and 31.4% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
However, Statista estimates that around 34% of the Egyptian population is under the age of 14. With no vaccinations currently approved for under-12s, that is a significant chunk of the population that is ineligible for the vaccine.
Of the eligible population (ages 14 and up), around 28% of the Egyptian population are fully vaccinated, and 45% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The increase in Egypt’s vaccination rate might be due to new restrictions on the unvaccinated. In October, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly’s Supreme Committee for the Management of the Coronavirus Crisis announced that starting Nov. 15, unvaccinated employees will not be allowed to enter the workplace unless they provide a negative PCR test weekly, at their own expense. Additionally, government facilities will not allow unvaccinated people to enter the premises starting Dec. 1. Both measures have since gone into effect, prompting a large number of people to seek vaccinations.
In July, the U.S. adopted a similar strategy by mandating federal workers to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated or else comply with regular testing, masking and other public health requirements. Mandates, write Lawrence O. Gostin and Scott C. Ratzan can become “ a key setting for expanding vaccine coverage.”
In November, vaccine supplies were stepped up to meet the increase in demand resulting from Egypt’s measures.Egypt allocated $450 million towards obtaining all types of internationally recognized vaccines, according to Mohamed Awad Tag el Din, the presidential adviser for health affairs. According to COVID19 Vaccine Tracker, a website tracking vaccine approvals, there are currently nine different vaccines available in Egypt, including the Pfizer/BioNTech RNA vaccine which is approved in 130 countries.
To address problems with the registration process, Hossam Abdelghaffar, spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Population, announced new website improvements. The changes would allow people to select the exact center for vaccination, as opposed to previously only being able to pick a general location.
Omicron is still relatively new and mysterious, having only emerged in late November. However, preliminary research estimates that receiving a booster shot could provide up to 85% protection against the variant.
Acting Minister of Health Khaled Abdel Ghaffar announced in mid-December the roll-out of booster shots for healthcare workers, senior citizens and chronically ill people who had received their vaccinations more than six months ago.
Mohamed Mostafa, 71, says that he received a text message late December instructing him to head to the same vaccination center where he took his initial vaccinations to receive his booster. He describes the process as “straightforward” and “much smoother than the initial doses.”
While his initial doses were of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, one of the only two available at the time, his booster was of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
As the world learns more about Omicron, speculation about the endemicity starts. The pandemic becomes an endemic when the rate of infections stabilize. News website Vox’s Sigal Samuel speculates that the variant might “[infect] so much of the population so swiftly that we more quickly develop a layer of natural immunity.”
Omicron is projected to quickly become the dominant strain worldwide, but with 40% lower risk of hospitalization than the Delta strain, Sigal says it might “end up more like the flu than a world-stopping disease.” While the world waits to see if the pandemic will come to a natural end, vaccination efforts continue to ensure that an end to the pandemic remains in sight.