Maryam Hussain is a doctor in the Coronavirus Diagnostic Department at Ain Shams General Hospital where she has spent five months trying to get the vaccine against the Coronavirus.
Maryam was supposed to have taken her dose four months prior to that date, since she is a member of the medical staff. This group was considered a top priority on the distribution list of those who will receive the vaccine first as announced by the Ministry of Health at the end of January 2021, in compliance with the recommendations of the World Health Organization WHO.
Over the past months, this investigation has strived to document cases of doctors who had applied to receive the vaccine but died before getting a dose, as well as those medical staff whose vaccinations were delayed. This was in violation of the plans announced by the Egyptian government putting therefore the life of frontline medical practitioners at risk.
The documentation and analysis of the database on Egyptian doctors’ deaths collated by the General Syndicate of Physicians show that the death rate among doctors after the announcement of the start of the vaccination process for medical staff reached 43% of the total deaths of 653 doctors.
The data collection methodology of the Medical Syndicate consisted of tallying the deaths among doctors due to Coronavirus, or while carrying out their duties, as well as through contacting the families of those deceased explains Doctor Ahmad Hussain, secretary of the syndicate’s media committee.
On December 10, 2020, Egypt received the first shipment made up of 50,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Another similar shipment followed on December 15, 2020.
A month and a half after, authorities in Egypt, announced the start of the vaccination process of medical staff during a press conference held on January 24.
During that period, 118 doctors died as a result of Coronavirus infection, according to the analysis of data on doctors’ mortality rates. This happened despite the clear recommendations of the World Health Organization calling on the speedy release of vaccine shipments and their distribution to protect the most vulnerable groups.
The Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed had announced the government’s plan to distribute vaccines during that same conference.
As for distributing the vaccine, the minister of health said that medical staff will receive the doses at their workplaces and that the Ministry has prepared lists of medical staff and for the most vulnerable groups to receive the doses first without disclosing their number. Zayed also confirmed that the Ministry has contacted all government institutions and hospitals affiliated with universities to add their eligible staff through their national numbers.
At the time, the Ministry of Health did not set a timetable for the plan to distribute vaccines by category but only emphasized the need to adhere to priorities.
At the end of February and while the Ministry of Health was celebrating the launch of its digital platform for citizens’ vaccine registration, Doctor Ibrahim Falis was still on the waiting list to receive his first dose. His work at the isolation ward at Desouq General Hospital in Kafr El-Sheikh did not grant him an exception or priority to get his vaccine then.
Falis and his wife, a pharmacist at the same hospital, had applied like other members of the hospital staff who wished to be vaccinated. A month passed by and they both contracted the virus which led to the doctor’s death at the end of March.
“I registered my name on the vaccination website on the first day of its launch, and I kept getting a message that no date has been set for receiving the vaccine, even though I am a senior member of the medical staff who was 72 years old”, Falis said.
“Who could they be giving the vaccine to now?”
On March 31, Doctor Abdel-Fattah El-Sayyed Azzam posted this complaint on his personal Facebook account. He had registered to receive the vaccine as part of the medical practitioners category on the government platform, but he did not get an appointment. His family reports that he contracted the Coronavirus and died at the end of May.
Both doctors are among a sample of 20 who have died as a result of Coronavirus infection after submitting their request to receive the vaccine but did not get it according to a sample we have obtained from the doctors syndicate database. We have also confirmed this data through contacting their families directly to confirm their cause of death, and the reasons why they did not receive the vaccine.
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The Minister of Health set the last week of March and the beginning of April as the date by which all medical staff would be vaccinated.
By then, Ain Shams General Hospital had begun providing vaccinations to the general public while Maryam Hussain, one of the hospital’s doctors, was unable to receive her first dose. She was asked to register again on the government electronic platform, knowing that as Hospital staff she had summitted an internal form stating her readiness to be vaccinated.
Maryam lived through 12 hours of fear and anxiety every week during her shift in the hospital while diagnosing suspected cases of the virus. She had to handle dozens of cases, while waiting for her vaccine’s first dose.
For five months, she tried every possible way to speed up her vaccination appointment. She submitted a complaint to the hospital director, who claimed to be still waiting for his jab exactly like her. She tried to register again on the website, but the Ministry of Health hotline for complaints informed her that cancelling and re-registering was not possible. She resorted to submitting a written complaint through the government complaints portal, and this was passed on to the Ministry and the Medical Syndicate, but to no avail.
On August 25, Maryam finally received her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at one of the mobile units in one of Cairo Governorate cities. She was not asked to provide a registration number or to clarify the group of eligible people she belonged to.
The Medical Syndicate has demanded at the time that all its doctors must be vaccinated. Current member of the syndicate’s council and its former Secretary-General, Ihab Al-Taher, had submitted a request on March 16 to ask the Minister of Health to publish a detailed medical staff vaccination plan urgently.
The request stated that the Ministry of Health must send a form to hospitals to be signed by medical staff wishing to be vaccinated, but that was the point at which the process ended.
April registered the peak of doctors’ deaths due to Coronavirus infections with 71 perishing. This made the Medical Syndicate appeal to the Ministry of Health to speed up the vaccination process for all doctors. In a communique sent to the Minister of Health on April 18, the syndicate announced that it was ready to offer assistance in preparing its subsidiary headquarters in all governorates for the purpose of registration and or vaccination, but the ministry gave no response.
The syndicate’s demands coincided with the start of the vaccination program for members of parliament and their families to which some members of the Medical Syndicate objected. Member of the syndicate’s council, Iman Salamah, described granting parliament members preferential treatment, an illustration of the failure of the vaccine distribution system in Egypt. She told “Mada Masr”, “The majority of doctors working in government hospitals have not had the opportunity to obtain the vaccine by April 21, even though they are the most vulnerable group.”
The Secretary-General of the Medical Syndicate Osama Abdel-Hay expressed the syndicate's anxiety over the lax and slow process of vaccinating doctors. At the time no more than 10 to 20% of doctors had been vaccinated.
In another statement, Abdel-Hay confirmed that there had been a severe delay in the arrival of vaccines earmarked for the medical staff. El Ahrar General Hospital, which is one of the largest hospitals to isolate Coronavirus cases in the Sharqia governorate had received the vaccine just a week before the Minister of Health’ conference on April 24, when he called on all medical staff to receive their jabs as soon as possible, stressing that vaccines are available in hospitals. He also highlighted the reluctance of some medical staff to get vaccinated.
After this conference, tension began to rise between the Minister of Health and the Medical Syndicate after the Minister has cast doubt about the real number of perished doctors due to corona, the syndicate had published. The Secretary-General of the syndicate denounced the minister’s statements and affirmed that all doctors working during the pandemic period have been exposed to infection, and those who die of the coronavirus must be included on the list of “White Army martyrs.”
Ibrahim Sami, a doctor in the Surgery Department at Abou Qir General Hospital in Alexandria, was trying to get his vaccine, but he lost hope that the doses intended for medical staff would reach his hospital, so he tried to register through the website in early June.
He was unlucky, however; as he had contracted the Covid-19 virus by the date set for him to get his first jab on June 7. Due to his infection, he had to wait until September to fully recover from it before receiving his first jab. Dr Ibrahim Sami had to wait from September to mid-October to get a new vaccination appointment.
The doctor finally received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on October 30 outside his workplace at Alexandria Fever Hospital. We also obtained evidence proving that Abou Qir General Hospital did not receive the vaccine doses for its medical staff until September, a delay of seven months compared to the deadline announced initially by the Ministry of Health.
Towards the end of June, Amnesty International issued a report entitled “Egypt: A Random and Flawed Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign that Does not Prioritize the Most Vulnerable Groups.” The report denounced what it described as the “random approach” of the Egyptian authorities in handling the vaccination campaign and the failure to give priority to vaccinating groups that are at risk of infection.
The delay in the arrival of vaccines to medical staff in some isolation hospitals and the struggle of some doctors to obtain the vaccine prompted the Ministry of Health to address all health authorities and directorates to urge their workers to register quickly to receive the vaccine. The Ministry stressed that as of the beginning of September, all legal measures would be taken against abstainers.
A document we obtained showed that Suez Hospital for Health Insurance, which is one of the isolation hospitals for Coronavirus patients, informed all its employees of the need to register through the website to receive the vaccine or to call the hotline of the Ministry of Health no later than September 1, 2021. It warned that legal action would be taken against those who refuse to receive the vaccine, however, documents we obtained later has shown that the vaccine was not delivered until sometime in September, that is seven months after the start of distributing vaccines to hospitals in Egypt.
Doctor Mohammad Fawzi Abbas, an Ear, Nose and Throat consultant, is one of the hospital’s doctors who was unable to get the vaccine until the date of his death in May, even though he had registered for it on the website. His daughter Ghada confirmed that he received the vaccination appointment after he had already been infected.
We detected another complaint made on a Facebook page by Doctor Osama El-Sayyed October 16, who is a doctor at Desouq General Hospital claiming that his hospital did not yet receive vaccines earmarked for its staff even though the hospital administration had registered the names of the doctors long before then.
This doctor informed us that his hospital had indeed provided vaccines for its staff in early November, but he himself had already received two doses of the vaccine at another health centre
At the end of October, the Egyptian Initiative for Individual Rights presented the government with a roadmap to accelerate the pace of vaccination of health sector workers, and it stressed that accelerating the vaccination of those is of the utmost necessity as health staff work at fixed locations and could be reached, counted and vaccinated easily.
The researcher in the ‘Right to Health’ initiative, Ahmad Azab, said that since its inception, the vaccination campaign had a “random” character due to the absence of a declared timeline with specific mechanisms targeting vaccination priority groups.
Mona Mina, former Secretary-General of the Medical Syndicate, stressed that she received several complaints from doctors who were unable to receive the vaccine, including doctors working in isolation wards and diagnosing suspected Coronavirus cases. This was due to what she described as the “state of chaos” of the vaccination campaign since its start at the end of January pointing that the mechanism set up for vaccinating doctors at their workplaces was not fully implemented.
The Egyptian Minister of Health did not provide any answers to our queries that we had sent on February 10, 2022, through to the ministry’s official email in keep with the Minister’s right to reply to the findings of this investigation. We reached out by phone to the Ministry’s spokesman, Doctor Hussam Abdel-Ghaffar, and forwarded our questions via what’s up as per his request, but to date we never received any response.
*Testimonies of cases covered in this investigation were published using pseudonyms.
This investigation is made with the support of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Network (ARIJ). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.