Last month, I twice tackled the topic of the rollout of coronavirus vaccine. I wrote of the mixed Egyptian public opinion over taking the vaccine or refraining from doing so. The government had announced that the first vaccine rollout would target the most at risk: medical staff, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions. Younger, healthier persons would take their turn later. I explained, however, that the priority question applied to those who stay inside their country, not to those leaving for business, tourism, education, conferences, exhibitions, sports, or suchlike. Travellers would probably have to take the vaccine regardless of age or risk level. My words were based on a strong international trend that only persons who had taken the vaccine should be allowed to travel, using so-called green passports.
Egyptians’ interest in taking the vaccine, however, was not overwhelmingly positive. Not a few were indifferent, possibly because the reported cases of COVID-19 remained well below international averages, also because many of those who caught the virus in Egypt had milder symptoms. Others rejected the vaccine for fear of future adverse effects. It is no secret the vaccines produced were under-researched; they were approved under “emergency use authorisation”, because the threat of the virus overruled the luxury of waiting out extended research.
Curiously, it looks like the Egyptian Ministry of Health shared my view of Egyptian scepticism regarding the vaccine. Although it was well aware of the urgency of vaccine rollout, it apparently expected only a few to show up. Since I belong to the high risk elderly group, I applied for vaccination once the relevant website was launched; I here report my personal experience.
At 7pm on Wednesday 31 March I received a ‘sudden’ message directing me to a specific health bureau the following day for vaccination.
I was taken aback by the extreme short notice, and wondered what if I had had an urgent commitment at the time specified, a question I heard echoed by many later. I must say I fail to see any plausible organisational justification for such short notice.
The message directing me to the health bureau was short and did not specify any hour, neither did it indicate the working hours of the bureau. Being an early riser, I was there at 7.30am, and found 12 elderly men and women all sitting quietly waiting for work to start; we learned that working hours start at 9am. A worker arrived, collected the by then 30 ID cards of those present, and organised them on a first-come first-served basis. He later came back with forms we had to fill regarding personal data and medical history. We were each required to sign a declaration that we were taking the vaccine on our own responsibility without any liability for the Ministry of Health regarding possible long term effects. We also had to leave our fingerprints each beside the signatures.
People kept pouring in until there was no way to keep the order we had started off with, nor the first-come first-served system. Come 9am the waiting hall was crammed with people nervous over losing their turns. Voices began to rise protesting the crowding and calling for order. I wondered why those arriving at the bureau had not been given serial numbers in order of arrival?
My name was soon called; I went in and was given the vaccine by the doctor, and handed a notification for the next dose of the vaccine. I went out to find the size of the crowd had swelled to more than 300 persons, and the chaos and tension were palpable.
It did not surprise me that social media, news outlets and talk shows spread images of the crowds in health bureaux, and criticised the Ministry of Health for miscalculating the turnout. They also criticised the Ministry’s organisational flaws such as failing to provide serial numbers in order of arrival, thus causing undue suffering to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Sadly, this has tarnished the arduous efforts exerted by the Ministry of Health since the outbreak of the virus some 13 months ago.
As has become the custom with official organisations in our country where reaction to feedback is much more common than preemptive moves, the Ministry of Health moved to curtail the number of persons taking the vaccine on a given day in a given bureau. Many previous appointments were postponed to later dates. I hope this controls the flow of vaccine takers and brings more order to bureaux. Once the rollout reaches the younger categories in the community, I fear their protest and wrath would dwarf that of the elderly.
9 April 2021