TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia launched its vaccination campaign on Saturday, four days after receiving the first 30,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines.
First up for a shot in the arm in the North African country were health care workers, soldiers and security officers, plus people over 65 and people with chronic health problems.
The opening round of vaccinations was held in a field hospital set up in a sports complex in the El Mensah district of Tunis, the capital. Mehrzia El Hammami, a 54-year-old nursing supervisor at Bardo Hospital, was the first person to be inoculated.
“The economy is affected, the health situation is critical, and we have lost a lot of health workers, so citizens must receive the vaccine” she told journalists after being vaccinated.
“The person who does not fear for himself should fear for those around him. I encourage people to get the vaccine” she added.
Tunisia’s vaccination program has dragged behind neighbors, even as virus infections and hospitalizations remain high.
“This is a very important path in facing the coronavirus, and it will contribute to a major shift in Tunisia, especially if we (can vaccinate) most of the citizens,” said Chedly Boualleg, governor of Tunis, attending the beginning of the campaign at the field hospital set up to treat COVID-19 patients.
The first deliveries of vaccines arrived from Russia aboard an Air France plane on Tuesday.
The country is expecting deliveries of hundreds of thousands of doses in the coming weeks of Russian and Chinese vaccines as well as those from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
The Chinese vaccines include 200,000 donated doses, health authorities have said, while the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are coming via the global COVAX program aimed at supplying vaccines to developing countries that might otherwise struggle to afford them.
Among reasons for the delayed rollout was a requirement from some drug producers that Tunisia adopt a law that would ensure the government would take responsibility for any problems with the vaccines.
Tunisia is hoping to vaccinate half of its population of 12 million by the end of the year.
Tunisia has reported more than 240,600 virus cases and at least 8,329 lives lost, according to a global count by Johns Hopkins University, one of the highest official virus death tolls in Africa.