COVAX: WHO to Send Doses of AstraZeneca Vaccines to Morocco

As part of its COVAX program to mitigate the far-reaching consequences of the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to send 1,881,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines to Morocco.

In an 11-page document published this week, the Global Alliance for Vaccines (Gavi), the body that manages the WHO’s Covax initiative, provided what appeared to be preliminary details about vaccines distribution to low and middle-income countries participating in the WHO’s vaccine program. 

“In line with initial guidance delivered on 22 January, and building on the publication of the 2021 COVAX global and regional supply forecast, the COVAX Facility is pleased to share the following forecast on early availability of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to Facility participants,” reads part of the document’s sanguine introduction.

Over 337 million doses of the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech will be distributed initially to 145 countries, covering 3.3 percent of their populations, it noted.

Per Gavi’s announcement, 15 percent of these doses are expected to be delivered by the end of March, with another 56 percent to be delivered by the end of June 2021. The remaining doses are expected to be delivered in the second half of the year. Morocco, an active COVAX participant and supporter, could receive 1,881,600 doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines by the end of June this year.

Room for change

Gavi explained, however, that its forecasts of the expected delivery are mainly based on current data on vaccine manufacturing.The suggestion is that details about the delivery time — and even the number of doses per participant country — could change with new developments.

“It is important to underscore that the indicative distribution is based on current communication of estimated availability from manufacturers. In this regard, it is likely the distribution may need to be adjusted in light of circumstances that are difficult to anticipate and variables that are constantly evolving,” said the document. 

Meanwhile, vaccine quotas as defined for each COVAX partner country are set to be proportional to the size of the population. 

This means countries that will receive the largest number of doses during the first six months of Gavi’s “indicative distribution” period are India (97.2 million), Pakistan (17.2 million), Nigeria (16 million), Indonesia (13.7 million), Bangladesh (12.8 million), and Brazil (10.7 million).

Other than population size, Gavi suggested the realization of its forecasts may also depend on several other factors, such as the state of preparedness of the concerned countries. 

“No doses will be allocated in the final allocation if a participant is deemed not ready… which may cause variations in the quantities allocated to the other participants,” it explained.

Also important is the state of the global supply chain regarding COVID-19 vaccines. To date, Gavi only has an agreement with the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines, while discussions “are currently underway” between the WHO and AstraZeneca. 

But, Gavi’s document pointed out, “if during this period different products become available, this indicative distribution will need to be adjusted as different products may be allocated to a Facility participant and therefore the quantities indicated for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine (both AZ/SII and AZ) may be altered.”

Morocco’s vaccination campaign

For Morocco, meanwhile, the WHO’s promised 1,881,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be a welcome addition to those the Moroccan government has already ordered. 

Morocco launched its vaccination campaign on January 28, after receiving its first shipments of vaccines directly ordered from China’s Sinopharm and AstraZeneca’s Indian plant.

So far, Morocco has vaccinated more than 300,000, and official reports suggest the vaccination campaign is taking place in “excellent conditions.”  

The North African country has to this date only received a fraction of the total number of doses it has ordered (2.5 million out of 60 million) from both AstraZeneca and Sinopharm. Health Minister Khalid Ait Talebb has indicated that the country will this month receive new doses of vaccines. 

With a limited quantity of doses, the first phase of Morocco’s vaccine roll out is targeted at frontline workers (teachers, health workers, security services, among others) aged 40 and above. 

According to the government, however, the country will adjust its vaccination campaign as more doses become available. The goal of the campaign, the government has insisted, is to inoculate as many as 80% of the Moroccan population to achieve herd immunity.

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