Health authorities in a dilemma

By Redha Menassel

Since coronavirus vaccines became a reality, Algerian authorities have been massively criticized for failing to anticipate vaccine orders. The Algerians watched helplessly while other African and Arab countries began their vaccination campaigns and did not understand the “inaction” of the country’s authorities.

Today the situation has changed a lot. The Algerian health authorities are faced with a dilemma: What to do with 13 million doses of anti-covid vaccines which apparently no one wants?

To fully understand the current situation, it is necessary to go back a few months. Algeria officially launched its vaccination campaign on January 29, 2021. The campaign kicked off at a polyclinic in BLIDA, one of the cities that was majorly affected by the coronavirus epidemic. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine was thus the first vaccine acquired by Algeria with 50,000 doses, followed by the Chinese Sinopharm a few months later.

Shy start of the vaccination campaign

Three categories have been chosen to receive the precious serum: caregivers, the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases. The rest of the population could not be effectively vaccinated until several weeks later. “It’s a shy start and comes very late”, said some Algerian health specialists who criticized the health authorities at the time for not having taken early steps to order vaccines.

Due to strong tensions over vaccines and strong international competitiveness, Algeria had indeed experienced enormous difficulties in acquiring the doses ordered from the Russians and the Chinese. Things changed a lot thereafter. From a situation of vaccine shortages at the start of the year, Algeria has grown in nine months to a position of plenty of doses due to the reluctance of Algerians to be vaccinated.

The latest official figures showed that 11 million Algerians out of 20 million of the target population were vaccinated: 5 million received a full vaccination (2 doses) and 6 million received a single dose. In the midst of the third wave that hit Algeria hard last summer, a peak of 247,000 vaccinated per day was recorded. People were jostling in the vaccination centers, but the ruch ended with the decline of the covid-19 pandemic.

Now, with a shy average of 20,000 vaccinations per day, Algeria finds itself with large quantities stored for lack of candidates for vaccination and the first to be sorry, it is obviously the Minister of Health: “We currently have 13 million doses. We even had to postpone the reception of several batches of vaccine. First, the means of storage will be overwhelmed. Above all, why continue to receive vaccines when our stocks have not been used?”

Problems with communication about the coronavirus

For Sara Nadia Mehchem, advertising expert, the mistake made by health authorities is first and foremost a communication problem. “The authorities have hammered out awareness messages around the Coronavirus everywhere. How to wash your hands, how to wear a bib properly. Experts jostled each other on radio and television channels to talk about barrier gestures and distancing. This is all great and commendable. But people have never been properly explained what a virus is, how a vaccine works. We never allayed our fears about the supposed side effects and even when we tried to do so, it was in scientific jargon incomprehensible to ordinary people. It would have been better to speak to the population using their everyday language.”

The new strategy of the Algerian health authorities is to mobilize all local structures as well as by installing vaccination points in various public spaces. Places of worship such as mosques and even some private pharmaceutical pharmacies have also been mobilized. Finally, a mobile strategy has been put in place to reach nomadic populations in landlocked areas. They are also preparing for a 4th wave by multiplying soothing declarations and by promising not to reproduce the mistakes of the past. Wait and see.