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Thousands of Tunisians rush for Covid vaccines amidst health crisis

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Saber Zidi/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved


Thousands of Tunisians have rushed to get their anti-Covid-19 jab, as the country opens vaccination to all adults during the Eid al-Adha muslim festival.

So far Tunisia had only been calling up those over 50 and essential workers.

"I am a dialysis patient. Getting vaccinated should be compulsory for me," says Ms Mahdouni, 36.

But when she arrived at one of the country's 29 vaccination centers at noon, an hour before the opening time, all the tickets had already been distributed. It was not certain that she would get a dose.

The same thing happened in Rades, in the southern suburbs of the capital Tunis.

"I was told that there were 1,000 doses of vaccine, and when I arrived at 1 PM, the 1,000 tickets had already been distributed," 28-year-old Rami Nebli told AFP.

This Wednesday morning, some Tunisians were left shocked as they showed up at a vaccination center in Tunis, only to find it would not open.

Authorities later clarified vaccination would only be available for those over 40 in this second day of Eid al-Adha celebrations.

Stocks of vaccines have been very limited in Tunisia, with only 8% of the population being fully vaccinated to this day, as cases once again spiral in the Northern African country.

"The situation is too serious, it really scares me," says 37-year-old Karima Mahdouni who rushed like thousands of other Tunisians to get their jab at a vaccination centre in Tunis.

Many Tunisians were reluctant to getting a Sinopharm or AstraZeneca jab, as the two vaccines are not recognized by the European health authority, meaning visiting members of the diaspora would be complicated.

However, the recent surge has pushed many to stand in line, waiting for their anti-Covid shot.

"I don't care what the name of the vaccine is, if you get vaccinated and I get vaccinated, infections will decrease. There will be no deaths, there will be no people in need of oxygen, you can't watch people suffering without doing nothing," Ines Amouri, a 47 year-old freelance worker, cries out.

Mechichi sacks criticized Health minister

Amidst growing criticism, Tunisia's Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced on Tuesday it had sacked Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi.

Earlier this month, Tunisia reported its health system had "collapsed" under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic which has caused more than 17,000 deaths in a population of around 12 million inhabitants.

"Not only are we at about 200 deaths per day - that's what's being reported - but also patients care services, hospitalisations, oxygen beds are currently at their maximum. So somehow we have to cut this chain of transmission," says Rafla Tej Dellagi a paediatrician and advisor to Tunisia's ministry of Health.

She insists on the fact that the country needs to rapidly increase vaccinations to achieve some respite from the pandemic.

"Vaccination is a race against time, it is also a race taking into account all the constraints, including the availability of vaccines. In Tunisia, we've been administering roughly 42,000 vaccines per day up to now, but if we really want to vaccinate further during this month, we need to redouble (the vaccination rate): we must reach 100,000 vaccinations per day," she said.

Tunisia said on Tuesday it will carry on vaccinating all adults, with new dates to be announced in the days to come.

People over 40 should be able to get their jab at their local pharmacy, starting next week.

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