The country aims to start vaccinations in January
Rabat – Algeria has at last decided on its chosen vaccine candidate, with authorities in Algiers choosing the Russian “Sputnik V” vaccine for the country’s national vaccination campaign.
The government announced its choice during a weekly governmental meeting chaired by Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad on Wednesday this week.
Algeria’s Minister of Health Abderrahmane Benbouzid spoke of the signing of a “direct agreement” to acquire the vaccine from a Russian laboratory. The decision is a “concretization of the decision of the President of the Republic to start the vaccination operation from next January,” the minister explained.
In the meantime, Algeria’s Pasteur Institute (IPA) has started a “series of talks” with Russian vaccine producers, according to Health Minister Benbouzid. Reporting on the agreement between Algiers and Moscow, Algerian news outlet TSA suggested, without supplying further details, that Algeria could also purchase other vaccines.
The sudden decision is likely a reaction to public frustration over delays in choosing the country’s vaccine candidate. The process of selecting a vaccine for national use had been hampered by bureaucratic and procedural delays, partly due to the absence of Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was receiving COVID-19 treatment in Germany.
The process had required presidential input while Tebboune was incapacitated in Germany. Algeria’s presidential office has not been patently forthcoming about the status of the president’s health. Widespread speculation about the president’s health occupied center stage while the country waited for a verdict on which vaccination path to take amid surging COVID-19 cases.
The government announced that a vaccine would be free for all citizens of Algeria on December 14 without explaining which vaccine would be used. A week later, on December 20, President Tebboune instructed the prime minister to select a vaccine for mass use in January.
Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was the first vaccine to be presented as an official vaccine against COVID-19. But the announcement, which was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in August, received widespread scepticism. Critics argued that the Russian vaccine had at that time not passed all the required testing phases.
President Putin however expressed confidence in the vaccine and announced that his adult daughter had already been given a dose. Russia maintained that it would complete clinical trials and, on December 14, announced its vaccine was found to be 91.4% effective.
Like Morocco’s choice of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, Algeria’s preference for the Russian vaccine has been met with skepticism from the West. Western distrust and direct opposition to Russia and China likely influenced opinions on Sinopharm and Sputnik V. But only time will tell whether these concerns are valid.
Algeria, like Morocco, is likely to expand its selection of vaccines. While Morocco announced its use of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, it is also purchasing alternatives in order to diversify its options in a field where much remains unclear. Details on side-effects, long-term immunity, and direct efficacy of most vaccines will only become clear once millions are vaccinated.