Tunisia starts Covid vaccinations month behind plan

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Around 300 nurses, doctors and other health personnel who are heavily exposed to the virus received shots during the morning at the El Menzah vaccination centre in the capital Tunis.

Tunisia launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign on Saturday, a month later than planned, with health professionals first in line, AFP correspondents reported.

Around 300 nurses, doctors and other health personnel who are heavily exposed to the virus received shots during the morning at the El Menzah vaccination centre in the capital Tunis.

The country received 30,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on March 9.

This initial delivery is being used to vaccinate 15,000 health professionals, said Abdelmoumen Samir, a doctor who is part of the country's coronavirus taskforce.

"With the vaccination launch, we are taking a very important step in the fight against this pandemic," he said.

"We will give a message of hope to Tunisians and encourage them to get vaccinated."

A further 94,000 vaccines, this time provided by Pfizer/BioNTech, are due to arrive from next week, while jabs produced by AstraZeneca are also to arrive soon, Samir said.

"We are going to be much less stressed when we approach a coronavirus patient," said Jalila Khelil, head of the intensive care unit at the Abderrahmen Memmi Hospital. "Even if we catch the virus, we will suffer much less severe symptoms."

A new variant of the virus is circulating in Tunisia, but initial analysis does not show it to be more dangerous or virulent than the original strain, according to the Pasteur Institute.

Tunisia, which has a population of 11.7 million, is the last country in the Maghreb region to launch its vaccination campaign.

Morocco and Algeria launched their drives in late January.

Confirmed deaths from the virus in Tunisia are currently running in the dozens per day, while total detected cases since the start of the pandemic stand at over 240,500, of whom more than 8,300 have died.