Algerian universities are scrambling to get students and faculty and staff members vaccinated against Covid-19 by the start of the academic year on October 4.
The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research put the starting date back by one month in hope of vaccinating 70 percent of the target population of 1.35 million.
“We prefer to postpone the academic season and expand the vaccination process to achieve the goal of herd immunity among the university family, instead of venturing into launching the academic year and being forced to stop it again if the infection index rises,” said Boualem Saidani, director of training at the ministry. (See a related article, “Libya’s Universities Close Again Due to Covid-19.”)
So far, 130,000 people at universities have received the Chinese vaccine Sinovac in a two-stage program that is targeting administrative staff members and freshmen first, then professors and other students. The figure does not include those vaccinated outside Algeria’s 109 public universities and higher-education institutes.
El-Khair Kashi, head of the Coordination Committee of Higher Education and Scientific Research Institutions, said instructions had been given to speed up the process.
“We hope to double the numbers this month with intensified outreach campaigns about the need to get vaccinated, in coordination with Algeria’s Ministry of Health,” he said in a statement.
He added that one to three vaccination centers have opened in each of the 109 campuses.
“We prefer to postpone the academic season and expand the vaccination process to achieve the goal of herd immunity among the university family, instead of venturing into launching the academic year and being forced to stop it again if the infection index rises.”Boualem Saidani
Director of training at the ministry.
Daily Infections Peaked in July
Algeria has reported a total of just over 200,000 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic early last year. Of these, 5,578 proved fatal.
The country has experienced three surges in infection. The most recent, in July this year, was the most serious, with a peak of 1,927 new cases per day. By mid-September, the number of daily infections had fallen below 250.
Unvaccinated teachers, staff members and students will not be allowed to start the academic year, but the ministry has not so far threatened them with sanctions or disciplinary action.
Some professors believe the government’s new vaccination campaign was a bit late.
“It had to start it earlier before the third wave started to make sure we can start the new academic year on time and without delay,” said Boudhane Yamine, a professor at the Faculty of Media and Communication at Mohamed Lamine Debaghine University–Setif 2. Still, he believes, “better late than never, as it will help us go back to regular classrooms after a lot of challenges with online education.”
Some students also criticized the higher-education ministry for making vaccination a condition to start the new academic year.
“The Scientific Committee of the Ministry of Health did not talk about compulsory vaccination,” said Souad Rescali, a third-year economics student at the University of Badji Mokhtar–Annaba, in northeastern Algeria.
“We support the measures taken to go back to university and encourage the decision to vaccinate the largest possible number of students, professors and staff members before resuming our studies.”Karima Belaïd
A student at the Messaoud Zeghar Teacher Education College of Setif, in eastern Algeria
“So why did the Cabinet statement link continuing university studies to students and professors’ getting the vaccine?”
Protecting the Academic Year
Some students were not convinced about the need for the vaccine, she added, saying it would have been better to impose stricter precautionary measures.
However, Saidani said the vaccine was part of the precautionary measures. “We cannot allow disrupting the course of university life,” he said. “We will continue to educate the community about the benefit of getting the vaccine to achieve a safe situation.”
Mourad bin Ouadfel, a fourth-year pharmacy student at Ferhat Abbas University–Setif 1, seems happy with the ministry’s decision. “The best solution to guarantee the success of the academic year is to vaccinate all students and professors to achieve herd immunity,” he said.
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Karima Belaïd, a second-year student at the Messaoud Zeghar Teacher Education College of Setif, in El Eulma in eastern Algeria, also supports the policy.
“We have not achieved a real benefit from the distance-education system,” said Belaïd. “We support the measures taken to go back to university and encourage the decision to vaccinate the largest possible number of students, professors and staff members before resuming our studies.”
To read more about how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting education, research and culture in the Arab region, see a collection of articles from Al-Fanar Media.