Tunisia is opting for Pfizer and Morocco is considering multiple candidates while Algeria negotiates.
Rabat – Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have chosen different paths on the road to distributing COVID-19 vaccines in the Maghreb region. Morocco announced its vaccination campaign in November, Tunisia confirmed its vaccine candidate on Tuesday, while Algeria waits for the return of its president to finalize the decision.
Maghrebi country Libya is still embroiled in its internal peace process. The country has committed to purchasing roughly $10 million worth of vaccines, and has worked with UNICEF and the WHO to see vaccines arrive in the first quarter of 2021. Disturbingly, Libya does not feature on the list of countries eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX mechanism.
COVAX aims to ensure a fair distribution of vaccines to lower and middle-income countries. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are all eligible to receive vaccines through the mechanism, with Libya being the only country in the Maghreb that is absent from the list.
Tunisia’s government announced on Tuesday that it had signed a contract for the vaccine Pfizer and BioNtech produced. The head of the country’s Pasteur Institute, Hechmi Louzir, estimates that the first 2 million doses of the US-German vaccine should arrive by the end of March 2021.
The government has agreed to pay a fee of $7 per dose and will distribute the vaccine for free. The first batches in the highly-anticipated vaccination campaign will focus on high-risk patients, the elderly, and healthcare workers. The US is starting to vaccinate its citizens with the same vaccine Tunisia chose, with the first healthcare workers receiving an injection on Monday.
The vaccine that Pfizer and BioNtech developed is in high demand. The US and other major Western countries have already purchased millions of doses, leading to fears that this could delay its distribution in the Maghreb. The pharmaceutical companies intend to produce 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
Morocco’s government explored several different vaccine candidates for its vaccination campaign. The country intends to be the first to distribute vaccines in the Maghreb and hopes to become a vaccine manufacturing and distribution hub for Africa.
Morocco has opted to start using the Sinopharm vaccine, which China has already used to vaccinate a million citizens, but is still considering other candidates in order to not rely on a single manufacturer.
The country is considering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, among others, and is eligible to receive Western-developed vaccines through the COVAX mechanism.
Morocco chose the Sinopharm vaccine for the national vaccination campaign. The country aims to soon produce and distribute Moroccan-made vaccines across the Maghreb and Africa as a whole.
The government of Algeria has promised it will provide free and safe vaccines to its population as early as January. The government at the start of December promised to announce “in a few days” which candidate it had chosen. Algeria is in discussions with Russia to purchase and locally produce its Sputnik V vaccine.
Yet many questions remain regarding the vaccine. While the government has aimed to reassure the population that it will provide a free and effective vaccine, many have their doubts. Amid a severe economic crisis, a vacant presidential office, and continuous government obfuscation, few have confidence in the validity of government statements.
On Monday Algeria’s Minister of Health Abderrahmane Benbouzid stated that the vaccine would “inevitably” be free but that the announcement of the chosen candidate was the president’s jurisdiction, not that of the Ministry of Health.
Algeria’s government appears to be waiting for the return of its COVID-19-afflicted president before it announces its candidate. It is possible that Algeria will be the last country in the Maghreb to receive vaccines if it does not make a decision soon.