If the vaccination campaign goes as planned, a return to normalcy in Morocco is expected from May onwards. It will take twelve weeks of vaccination plus twenty-eight days after the end of this operation to reach the threshold of herd immunity. However, this objective depends on the support of the citizens.
Against Covid-19, vaccination is the only alternative! Morocco will begin, in the coming days, the vaccination operation after the Ministry of Health, on the advice of the national advisory commission, has given its green light to the vaccine of AstraZeneca/Oxford, marketed under the name “Covidshield”. As for the Sinopharm vaccine, the temporary authorization from Khalid Ait Taleb’s department will soon follow. In all, Morocco will need to receive some 66 million doses of vaccine. From the start of vaccination, it will take four months to achieve the expected herd immunity. After the 12 weeks of vaccination, 28 days are needed for the last doses of vaccine to produce the desired effect. The return to normal is expected from May, as highlighted on Wednesday by the Minister of Health, Khalid Ait Taleb during his media release on 2M.
To achieve this goal, collective mobilization is required. Citizens are called upon to adhere massively to the vaccination campaign. Scientifically, it is collective immunity that makes it possible to break the chain of transmission of a virus and thus extinguish an epidemic, either by allowing people to be exposed or by vaccinating them. In the case of Covid-19, the first solution proves to be dangerous because of the number of deaths it can cause. Moreover, the World Health Organization has warned against any attempt to achieve “herd immunity” by allowing the virus to spread freely because it would be “scientifically problematic and unethical”. But what threshold of immunity should be reached?
According to the WHO, the percentage of people who must have antibodies to achieve herd immunity to a given disease depends on the individual disease. For example, herd immunity to measles is achieved “when about 95% of a population is vaccinated. The remaining 5% are protected because measles will not spread -among those who are vaccinated. For poliomyelitis, the threshold is about 80%”.
For the new coronavirus, specialists estimate this threshold at 50 or 60%. Morocco, for its part, wants to achieve an immunity rate of 80% by vaccinating some 25 million Moroccans over 18 years of age. Will this goal be achieved? Since vaccination is not mandatory, the government is focusing on raising awareness to encourage citizens to get vaccinated and save lives. Concerns about the reliability of the two vaccines Morocco has chosen will need to be addressed. The Minister of Health and the members of the scientific commission on vaccination reassure the public about the safety of these two vaccines although they are developed and validated in record time like the other anti-covid vaccines that were developed in a hurry. The results of the clinical trials are indeed reassuring, at least so far. The authorities intend to keep a close watch during the vaccination operation to detect and treat any possible side effects of the two vaccines.
Making the vaccination operation a success
Morocco is eagerly awaited for this large-scale vaccination operation, which is not easy to carry out. The stakes are high. Some countries have had difficulty starting the covid vaccination campaign despite the logistical means at their disposal. The Moroccan government believes that Morocco is capable of taking up the challenge, as it is experienced in organizing vaccination operations that have helped put an end to many diseases in all four corners of Morocco. In 2013, a national measles and rubella vaccination campaign reached 11 million people aged nine months to 19 years. Preparations for the Covid-19 pandemic campaign have been underway for weeks. And everything is ready to begin the vaccination campaign. In cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, all the logistics have been put in place at the national, regional and local levels. More than 25,000 health sector professionals have been mobilized to carry out this operation, including 11,000 in urban areas. If necessary, they will be supported by other teams (military, private sector, red crescent, medical students, etc.). Exhausted by the management of the pandemic for more than 10 months, the health staff is eagerly awaiting the start of this operation, in order to return to the work rhythm of yesteryear. Some of them will travel in mobile units to reach all regions, even the most remote and difficult to access. Priority will be given to front-line staff, including health workers, public authorities, security forces and national education personnel, as well as the elderly and people vulnerable to the virus, before extending vaccination to the rest of the population.
A computer system has been developed to ensure the proper management of the vaccination campaign (vaccine delivery, field management, monitoring of possible side effects, etc.). All the health centers concerned and the mobile units mobilized for this purpose are equipped with connected tablets to introduce into the system all the necessary information that will be used not only during the vaccination operation, but also for the post-vaccination period. A large part of the appointments will be managed based on data from the national identity card (CIN). The persons concerned will receive a text message informing them of the appointment and the place of vaccination. People who do not have a CIN will have to register with the local authorities in their place of residence to benefit from the vaccination. In the meantime, citizens are urged not to let their guard down. As long as collective immunity has not yet been reached, barrier gestures must be respected. Any laxity risks undermining the efforts made.
Why two vaccines?
Since last April, Morocco had been seeking to acquire the Covid-19 vaccine. It was necessary to be proactive because international vaccine production capacity cannot meet the needs of all countries. Contacts were made with several research companies and it was finally decided to opt for the Chinese vaccine from Sinopharm and the vaccine from Astra-Zeneca/Oxford. The main advantage of these two vaccines is that they can be stored at only 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, whereas other vaccines, such as Pfizer’s, need to be stored at -70 to 80 degrees Celsius. For a large vaccination campaign, Morocco does not have the logistics to ensure the storage of vaccines that require very low temperatures. In addition, the agreement with Sinopharm involves technology transfer from China to Morocco for vaccine production. In this context, a high-tech vaccine production platform will be created in Tangier. Regarding the Astra-Zeneca/Oxford vaccine, the commercial agreement reached is beneficial for Morocco, according to Health Minister Khalid Ait Taleb.