In Algeria, the mistrust of the population slows down the vaccination campaign


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An Algerian doctor administers a dose of vaccine against Covid-19 in front of the great El-Kébir mosque, in Algiers, on July 9, 2021.

 » To do what ? «  When asked whether or not he is vaccinated, Mounir shrugs his shoulders. This 33-year-old Algerian entrepreneur contracted the Covid-19 virus « Twice without having any after-effects » and do not see « Utility »To have a dose of vaccine injected. He is far from the only one.

In Algeria, the vaccination campaign launched in February stumbled over many reluctance. The country has 6.7 million first-time vaccines – or about 15% of the population – and 5.5 million people who have had two doses. A far result « From 20 to 25 million » necessary for collective immunity targeted at the end of December, said Professor Ryad Mahyaoui, member of the scientific commission, on Algerian radio on December 20.

Read also « In Algeria, we suffocate under our masks, the pressure, the dismay and the fear »: diary of a country doctor at the time of the coronavirus (1)

Adherence to vaccination remains low although the scientific committee monitoring the evolution of the pandemic has been warning for several days about the imminence of a fourth wave. Contaminations are on the rise with nearly 300 daily cases in recent days – an official report largely underestimated according to doctors. The spread of the Omicron variant is worrying, as two cases have already been recorded in the country.

To ward off a new epidemic outbreak, the government announced on Saturday, December 25 the phased establishment of the vaccination pass. The document will now be required to enter and leave Algeria, but also to access various places such as sports halls, cinemas or museums. The government is also planning to intensify vaccination operations for civil servants as well as certain professions in the service and trade sectors.

Sometimes « fanciful » reasons

It will still be necessary to convince the Algerians to go to the vaccination centers. To believe several doctors, if a war has been lost, it is that of social networks. « Erroneous information is transmitted there faster than that from doctors or scientific media », indicates Doctor Athmane Ayaden, anesthetist-resuscitator in a public hospital establishment in the region of Bouira, east of Algiers.

Risk of sterility, non-halal composition of vaccines… The distrust of Algerians is therefore sometimes due to reasons. « Fanciful », he explains. Among the patients he sees in preoperative consultation, « Only 1 to 2% are vaccinated ».

Read also « Algeria, which was finally starting to breathe, suffocates again »: diary of a country doctor at the time of the coronavirus (2)

The reluctance extends to health personnel, for whom vaccination is not compulsory. Health Minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid revealed on December 13 that less than a third of them were vaccinated. “There are even vaccinating doctors who have advised citizens against getting vaccinated. It is unfortunate because we had more than 400 victims among the health personnel » since the start of the epidemic, lamented Dr. Lyès Akhamouk, infectious disease specialist, on Algerian radio.

The third deadly wave that hit Algeria in the summer of 2021 had however caused a large influx to the many vaccination centers deployed across the country. The import of vaccines and the entry into local production of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine had made it possible to relaunch the campaign, with nearly 260,000 people vaccinated per day in September, according to figures from the scientific committee. Now, the number of daily vaccinations has stagnated at 15,000, while the country has thirteen million doses stored at the Institut Pasteur in Algiers.

Great relaxation

In the field, civil society organizations are mobilizing to sensitize the population. In Oran, in the west of the country, the Sidi El Houari Health association (SDH) has trained around fifty young people over the past five months to carry out information campaigns in working-class neighborhoods and on social networks.

« We had to do in-depth work on mentalities », explains Assia Brahimi, president of the SDH, who also denounces the impact of false information massively relayed on the Internet and which alters official communication around the management of the pandemic.

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In August 2020, a first study was published on the behavior of the population of Oran in the face of the pandemic. The research conducted by Mohamed Mebtoul, sociologist and pioneer in the anthropology of health in Algeria, aimed to assess « The perception of the population in relation to the messages received in terms of barrier gestures, confinement, their fears and their expectations », specifies Assia Brahimi, whose association participated in the survey.

« It emerged that the messages sent by the authorities were not clear and that the speech was not necessarily adapted to the public, explains the young woman, citing as an example press releases from the authorities in classical Arabic, French or even English which do not necessarily speak to the entire population. « 

Podcasts, conferences, visual kits, plays in neighborhoods and schools: the association is stepping up communication actions. « After five months of the project, we are starting to feel a small change », welcomes the president of the SDH, noting that the very last vaccination campaign organized in Oran attracted more people than previous times.

To speed up the response, some voices are now calling for the introduction of compulsory vaccination for health and education personnel. In the meantime, Algiers also advocated Saturday, December 25 the « Strict application » various health protocols such as wearing a mask and announced « The firm establishment of administrative and penal sanctions against offenders », while a great relaxation is observed in the respect of barrier gestures.

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