“I’ve been waiting in line since February and hope to get vaccinated today”: Like thousands of young Tunisians, Karima Mahduni decided to wait for hours in the sun on Tuesday, hoping to receive a dose of COViD-19 vaccine.
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Crowds gathered in the morning in front of 29 vaccination centers, which are open exclusively to all adults on Tuesday and Wednesday, without appointment, resulting in crushing and clashes.
The initiative was announced the day before by the government on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the most important Muslim holiday.
Since March, Tunisia has encouraged its residents to be vaccinated by age group. Currently, only people over 50 years of age and some priority occupations are involved, while the country has seen an unprecedented increase in cases over several weeks.
“I’m on dialysis. Vaccination should be mandatory for me, ”says Ms Mahduni, 36 years old.
But when she arrived at noon, an hour before the opening of the vaccination center at the Palais des Congrès in Tunisia, all tickets had already been distributed. So I’m not sure if she can get the dose.
The same is true in Rades, in the southern suburbs of the capital. “I was told that there were 1000 doses of vaccine, and when I arrived at 13:00, 1000 tickets had already been distributed,” says Rami Nebli, 28, regrets.
“I want to get vaccinated so we can resume our lives, but there were thousands of people there, so I came back: it was too risky to get infected with COVID,” he said.
Anise arrived at 9:00. A civil protection volunteer, he is involved in the transport of coronavirus patients, but has not yet been vaccinated because he is only 21 years old and does not practice the medical profession.
“I am being vaccinated to stop this wave and protect myself,” said a young man with his family from Ouardia, a popular area in Tunisia. Her 18-year-old sister Sarah also decided to come “to protect (her) parents.”
In recent weeks, Tunisia has been experiencing an infection peak unprecedented since the start of the pandemic, and its hospitals are overwhelmed.
The vaccination campaign has been sluggish for a long time, especially because, until recently, vaccine supplies were very limited. About 937,000 people have been vaccinated, or about 8% of the population, which is too small to contain infection, even though it is one of the highest in Africa.
Faced with shortages of oxygen, medical personnel and intensive care beds, the health situation in Tunisia has become disastrous, prompting many countries to send medical assistance in recent days.
Tunisia, with a population of 12 million, currently has about 3.2 million doses and is expected to have more than 5 million vaccines by mid-August, the Health Ministry told AFP.
“Race against time”
In anticipation and despite initial resistance to the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines introduced during this open door vaccination campaign, organizers were amazed by the Tunisians who came in droves to vaccinate.
In the coastal city of Mahdia, the governor had to abort operations because there were too many candidates compared to the number of doses, according to a local radio station.
In another sign of Tunisian enthusiasm, the number of registrations on the government platform “evax”, the compulsory vaccination, which has registered about 100,000 new registrations from Monday to Tuesday, has exceeded 3.6 million.
“This is a race against time,” Rafla Tei Dellaghi, pediatrician, head of the Tunisian Vaccination Center, told AFP. According to her, it is necessary to vaccinate 100,000 people a day, against 40,000 at present, in order to break the chain of transmission.
Faced with the success of the vaccination, open to all, the Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that it will continue it “over the next few days (…) according to a schedule to be announced at a later date.”
From next week, vaccines should also be available in pharmacies for people over 40.