The COVID-19 virus that reached Morocco in March 2020 by way of Casablanca led to a full-blown outbreak in less than a month. The virus had infected some 700,000 people by the summer of 2021, claiming over 10,000 lives. Morocco’s proximity to Italy, one of the earliest epicenters of the disease after China, and the large number of Moroccan expats traveling back and forth between the two countries was why the virus was introduced to Morocco earlier than many other African countries.
Following the early introduction of the virus, several spikes have occurred in the number daily confirmed cases—the latest of which took place in mid-November 2020 and August 2021. In the worst day of the last spike, over 10,000 new cases were confirmed. This prompted the Moroccan healthcare authorities to ramp up the vaccination campaign that had started in February—just shortly after the first vaccines were cleared for human use and their mass manufacturing took off. The first batches of vaccine were delivered to Morocco on January 28, 2021.
Among the available options, the kingdom’s Ministry of Health opted for three different COVID-19 vaccines: China’s Sinopharm, Russia’s Sputnik V, and the Anglo-Swedish Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. With a population of just under 37 million, the nation needs around 70-75 million vials of vaccine to achieve a reasonable level of immunization with the injection of two consecutive doses to each citizen. Agreements for the shipment of 66 million doses were finalized in as early as January 2021, making Morocco’s vaccination program the timeliest public immunization program against COVID-19 in Africa.
However, the slow supply of vaccines in the first months of the campaign, especially by AstraZeneca, prolonged the vaccination drive; hence, the aforementioned spike in the number of new cases in the summer of 2021. Although the vaccination program kicked off on time, by the early summer, only 7.6 million doses of vaccine had been administered, which was not enough to create nationwide immunization. Fortunately, however, the shipment of vaccines picked up around the same time. As of this writing, 46,170,777 doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Morocco, and the figure is growing at the rate of 200,000 shots per day in October 2021. At this rate, by mid-November 2021, over 70% of the Moroccan population will have received two doses of vaccine, resulting in a reasonably high level of immunization.
To ramp up the production of the required vials of vaccine, Sothema, a Moroccan pharmaceutical company, has also accelerated licensed production of China’s Sinopharm. Aside from speeding up the vaccination campaign and potentially saving many lives, this effort will also improve the country’s pharma industry. It is estimated that this will pave the way for up to USD500 million of investment in the Moroccan pharmaceutical sector over a five-year period.
It is worth noting that the vaccination drive will not be completed once and for all when all citizens have received their two doses. There are already talks in medical circles about the advisability of an additional third, booster dose. What is more, maintenance doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be in demand to strengthen the immunity of more vulnerable citizens as time goes by. And much like influenza vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines will be in demand in the foreseeable future.
The local manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines in Morocco has coincided with an attempt to strengthen the nation’s pharmaceutical industry in general. On July 6, 2021, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Swedish pharmaceutical giant, Recipharm, the Kingdom of Morocco, and a consortium of financiers.
Recipharm’s planned factory will not only raise the level of healthcare security in the coming years, but also turn Morocco into an exporter of vaccines and medications to the rest of Africa. “The factory, which will be located on a 42-hectare greenfield site is planned to be operational by 2023,” according to The Pharma Letter, a media group focusing on the pharma industry.
All things considered, Morocco did put up a good fight against COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and its vaccination campaign, which has so far immunized well over 60% of the population, has been among the most successful vaccine drives in Africa and the MENA region. What is more, Morocco has also taken steps toward the localization of vaccine manufacturing know-how, which means if the stubborn new coronavirus or one of its many mutations makes a comeback, the kingdom will be ready to immunize its population in a short time, without waiting for the shipment of vials from other countries.