January 19 – 26, 2021 | Press Review Morocco

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Photo: John S. on Flickr

January 26, 2021

COVID-19: Official German denial of the ineffectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the over-65s

The German Ministry of Health has refuted speculation about the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in the elderly. Cited by the press, a press release from the department pointed out that there were no data suggesting an efficacy of only 8% in people over 65 years of age, contrary to what was previously reported in several German media quoting government sources.

The ministry put forward a misinterpretation of a study, where the figure of 8% refers instead to the number of people aged between 56 and 69 who participated. “At first glance, it seems that two things were confused in the reports: about 8% of the subjects in AstraZeneca’s effectiveness study were between 56 and 69 years old, only 3% to 4% were over 70. This does not indicate efficacy in only 8% of the elderly,” said Share Cast, citing the ministry.

The day before, sources within the German government majority, quoted by Bild and Handelsblatt, indicated that the COVID-19 vaccine was not very effective (less than 10%) for people over 65 years old, questioning the choice of countries that had authorised it for their vaccination strategy.

For its part, AstraZeneca said the data relayed about the study were “completely incorrect”. On Friday, the European Medicines Agency will have to decide whether the vaccine developed by the British laboratory is approved for emergency use.

For more information, please see (in French) the following link.

January 25, 2021

Vaccine: start of distribution in the regions

The Moroccan authorities began, Monday in Casablanca, the operation of distribution in the regions of the vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19), in anticipation of the launch this week of a vast national vaccination operation.

The first trucks loaded with doses of the vaccine left in the morning from the Autonomous Refrigeration Authority of Casablanca (RAFC), where the vaccines are stored in very reinforced security conditions.

As a reminder, Morocco received last Friday a first delivery of the British vaccine AstraZeneca manufactured in India, just as it should receive this Wednesday the first delivery of the SinoPharm vaccine from China. In accordance with the high royal instructions, Morocco has acquired a quantity of vaccines sufficient for 33 million people (66 million doses of vaccine).

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

COVID-19 in Morocco: “Liqahcorona.ma” answers your questions about vaccines

What is the place of vaccination against COVID-19?

As a public health intervention par excellence, vaccination has demonstrated its relevance in reducing deaths and disability caused by several infectious diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, whooping cough, measles, etc. Vaccination against the COVID-19 virus represents an opportunity to ensure individual and collective/community protection.

This vaccine induces specific protection against the SARS-CoV2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, by allowing the immune system to memorise the first contact with the antigen used. On subsequent contact with the virus, the speed of recognition and the intensity of the specific immune response will make it possible to avoid infection. Getting vaccinated is a way to protect yourself and those around you.

However, herd immunity is only possible if the majority of people have been vaccinated (80%).

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines stimulate the body’s protective immune responses so that if a person is infected with a pathogen, the immune system can quickly prevent the infection from spreading through the body and causing disease. In this way, vaccines mimic a natural infection but without causing disease.

Not all people infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop disease (COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus). These people have an asymptomatic infection but can still transmit the virus to others. Most vaccines do not completely prevent infection, but they do prevent the infection from spreading in the body and causing disease. Many vaccines can also prevent transmission, potentially leading to herd protection. Herd immunity means that unvaccinated people are protected from infection by the vaccinated people around them because they are less likely to be exposed to the virus.

How are vaccines against COVID-19 virus developed?

Vaccines are extensively tested in several different trial phases.

  • Pre-clinical studies using tissue culture, cell culture or animal studies. At this stage, safety and immunogenicity (the ability of the vaccine to produce an immune response) are evaluated. If the preclinical studies are successful, the vaccine then goes through several different phases of human vaccine trials.
  • Phase I clinical trials are small-scale trials in healthy adult volunteers (usually 20-100) to assess whether the vaccine is safe in humans and the type and extent of the immune response it induces.
  • Phase II clinical trials are larger (several hundred healthy volunteers) and are usually conducted in the target age group(s) in which the vaccine is likely to be used. Their main aim is to evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness against artificial infections and clinical diseases. Vaccine safety, side effects and immune response are also studied.
  • Phase III clinical trials involve studying the vaccine on a large scale on several hundred or thousands of subjects at several sites to evaluate efficacy under natural disease conditions and to ensure that there are no undesirable side effects not detected in phase II studies.

How do you know if the COVID-19 vaccine is safe?

Like other vaccines, vaccines developed to fight the COVID-19 virus must undergo thorough and rigorous testing before they are introduced into a country. Once used, they will be continuously monitored to make sure they are safe for the people who receive them.

There are many strong protective mechanisms to ensure the safety of vaccines against the COVID-19 virus. These trials, involving healthy people or people with balanced medical conditions, are specially designed to identify any common adverse events or other safety concerns.

If a clinical trial shows that a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus is safe and effective, a series of efficacy and safety reviews must be conducted, including regulatory review and approval in the country where the vaccine is manufactured.

Why has the development and production process for COVID-19 vaccines been fast?

Traditionally, it takes many years to develop a vaccine, confirm its safety and efficacy, and produce it in sufficient quantities for public use.

This has been considerably shortened for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. This has been made possible in several ways:

  • Some clinical trials have combined phases 1 and 2 to assess safety and immune responses.
  • Because of the high number of new cases of COVID-19, multicentre studies in several countries have compared the difference between those who received the vaccine and those who received the placebo.
  • Governments have invested heavily in strengthening research and development as well as the capacity to produce a large number of doses before the results of phase 3 trials are available. None of these factors contributing to the accelerated development of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine suggest that safety, scientific or ethical integrity has been compromised or that shortcuts have been made.
  • Vaccine production platforms already existed with other vaccines and are currently being used for those vaccines.

Why a vaccination strategy against the COVID-19 virus in Morocco?

As in other countries in the world, despite the health measures established in Morocco, the COVID-19 pandemic has had health, economic and social consequences, requiring the implementation of additional control strategies.

Thus, Morocco, thanks to the guidance of His Majesty King Mohammed VI may God assist him, was among the countries that anticipated planning for the implementation of a vaccination strategy against the COVID-19 virus as a powerful public health intervention and proceeded to sign an agreement for the acquisition of vaccines, technology transfer and participation in phase III clinical trials for the development of the vaccine.

What are the results of the clinical trials conducted in Morocco on the COVID-19 vaccine?

Biomedical research in Morocco is scrupulously regulated and conducted in accordance with international requirements. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Morocco has actively participated in the multicentre phase III trials of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is the first vaccine clinical trial in Morocco since independence. This multi-centre, randomised, double-blind clinical trial is considered to have a strong level of scientific evidence.

The clinical trial is carried out at 3 sites with a total of 600 participants. The vaccine was administered with a two-dose regimen at D0 and D21. The objective is to evaluate the immunogenicity and safety of the vaccine in a population aged 18 and over. To date, no serious adverse events have been recorded. As with other vaccines, local adverse events such as pain at the injection site, rash, headache and fatigue have been reported.

Which vaccines against the COVID-19 virus will be used in Morocco?

As part of the vaccination strategy, and as part of a proactive vision, Morocco has carried out a worldwide survey to identify vaccines for which health data is available and satisfactory.
At present, the two vaccines used are :

  • The Vaccine of the Sinopharm laboratory: this is an inactivated vaccine developed by a method that has been applied for about 50 years. This method is used for the development of vaccines against flu, rabies, polio and whooping cough .
  • The AstraZeneca laboratory’s vaccine: this is a viral vector vaccine whose virus is devoid of a reproduction gene that does not present an infectious risk for the organism but has the power to trigger an immune response. The Ebola vaccine is one such vaccine.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

January 24, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine: Here are the steps

The campaign starts this Sunday

The vaccination campaign starts this Sunday under the sign of proximity. Long before the start, the Ministry of Health had taken measures to ensure the smooth running of this operation which targets a large section of the population. With the arrival of the first doses of the vaccine on the national territory, preparations are well underway. In order to popularise this approach among citizens, awareness capsules have been launched in several languages, including dialectal Arabic, Amazigh and Hassani. The Khalid Ait Taleb department has also deployed services to benefit from the COVID-19 vaccine. In concrete terms, the interested person can send their CIN number or the number of their residence card by SMS to the free freephone number 1717.

A message will then be received to arrange an appointment and the nearest vaccination site. After administration of the first dose of the vaccine, the beneficiary will have to take the second dose on the date indicated. In this respect, people who have received both doses of the Covid vaccine will be able to download the vaccination certificate from the platform: www. liqahcorona.ma. If side effects occur after taking the vaccine, the patient must notify a doctor via the dedicated sections on the same electronic platform. The Ministry of Health would like to point out that it is necessary to continue to comply with the preventive measures even after receiving the two doses of the vaccine.

The aim is to achieve herd immunity. In addition to the liqahcorona.ma platform, the freephone number 080000147 is available to citizens for further information. It should be noted that after having received a first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured in India, last Friday, Morocco will receive the first shipment of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine on 27 January. As a first step, this campaign will target the people most at risk and most exposed to COVID-19, as well as health professionals aged 40 and over, law enforcement agencies, the Royal Armed Forces and the elderly teaching staff.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

500,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine expected in Morocco

The number of doses sent to Morocco on Wednesday 27 January by the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm should amount to 500,000, according to sources consulted by TelQuel and TelQuel Arabi. The Ministry of Health had announced Friday the emergency authorization of the Chinese vaccine after the opinion of the National Consultative Commission for the authorization of vaccines against COVID-19.

These doses should therefore make it possible to vaccinate 250,000 people, the administration of the Chinese vaccine requiring two doses per person 21 days apart (compared to 28 days for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca).

Morocco has already received 2 million doses of the Covishield vaccine, developed by the British-Swedish laboratory AstraZeneca. These have been sent from India, where they are manufactured by the industrial giant Serum Institute of India.

Website, SMS and toll-free number

The national vaccination campaign should start in Morocco this week. The first vaccinations will benefit health professionals over 40 years of age, public authorities, the Royal Armed Forces, teachers over 45 years of age and people over 75 years of age.

People in these categories can already make an appointment or check their registration by sending a free text message to the number 1717, or on the website dedicated to registering vaccination requests, which went live on Sunday 24 January.

The SMS must include the number of the CIN or residence permit for foreigners, and the reply to the SMS will be the date and place of vaccination. A toll-free number has also been launched to inform the general public about this vaccination campaign: 0800 000 147. It will be accessible from Monday to Saturday, from 8 am to 6 pm.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

January 23, 2021

Colchicine raises new hopes in the fight against COVID-19

Called “Colcorona”, the study began in March 2020, reports Radio Canada. It was led by Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, director of the MHI Research Centre and professor of medicine at the Université de Montréal. The 4,488 participants received either colchicine or an inactive drug (a placebo) for 30 days.

The results are “very encouraging”. They show that colchicine, a drug initially used to treat gout and pericarditis, reduced the risk of death or hospitalization by 21% among the 4,488 participants with Covid-19 who took part in the trials.

In 4,159 of the 4,488 participants, the diagnosis of Covid-19 was proven by a nasopharyngeal test. For these patients, the figures revealed by the study are particularly promising: colchicine led to reductions in hospitalisations by 25%, in the need for mechanical ventilation by 50%, and in deaths by 44%.

“These are important results, with a drug that is known to be safe, inexpensive, and ultimately offers hope to patients before they end up in hospital,” said Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif. “We are pleased to offer the world’s first oral drug whose use could have a significant impact on public health and potentially prevent complications of COVID-19 for millions of patients,” he also stated in the official press release on the study.

The same source states that the study aimed to “prevent the storm of inflammation that occurs in some patients infected with COVID-19 and which leads to hospitalisation, sometimes intubation and sometimes death”. In fact, the idea was to find a drug that could reduce symptoms before hospitalisation, in order to relieve the congestion in the health care units dedicated to the management of Covid patients, many of whom are completely saturated worldwide.

Other studies have also raised the relevance of colchicine, one of which was published in June 2020 in the journal Reumatología Clínica, the official journal of two national rheumatology societies, the Sociedad española de reumatología (SER) and the Colegio mexicano de reumatología (CMR) – but it relates the experience of just five patients. Another study was published in August 2020 in the National Library of Medicine (NLM), a library attached to the American Institutes of Health.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

January 22, 2021

Migration: The Spanish Transparency Council rejects a request on aid granted to Morocco

In Spain, the “Council of Transparency and Good Governance” rejected a request from an NGO for access to information on aid granted to Morocco in the fight against irregular immigration. The public and independent body, created in 2014, has thus just agreed with the arguments presented by the Ministry of Interior to refuse the request presented by the association Acces Info Europe, reports the online publication ECD.

Last June, the applicant wished to know the details of the financial interventions granted to the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior, in particular the deployment of the effective security forces of Morocco and Spain engaged in operations against illegal immigration networks.

In its response of 29 July, the department of Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska considered that “this is information relating to international police cooperation, the dissemination of which would compromise the effectiveness of the security policy of both countries, particularly in an area such as the fight against the smuggling and trafficking of persons and illegal immigration”.

The decision of the Transparency and Good Governance Council comes two weeks after the Supreme Court’s verdict, which rejected the appeal by two NGOs against the €30 million aid to curb the mass arrival of migrants on the Spanish side, granted by the Spanish government to Morocco. The court ruled that the associations “Acces Info Europe” and “Andalucía Acoge (Andalusia reception)”, authors of the appeal, have no legitimacy to ask for the annulment of the decision taken by Pedro Sanchez’s executive in July 2019.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

January 21, 2021

COVID-19: India authorises delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine to Morocco

The Indian government has authorized commercial exports of AstraZeneca’s CovID-19 vaccine to Morocco, the Indian foreign minister told Reuters.

The Indian government had delayed exporting the doses until it launched its own national immunisation programme last weekend. Earlier this week it sent free supplies to neighbouring countries including Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said commercial supplies of the vaccine would begin on Friday, in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge that India’s production capacity would be used for all mankind to fight the pandemic.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

South African variant of COVID-19: Tayeb Hamdi’s details

In addition to the British and Brazilian variants, the appearance of a new strain of coronavirus in South Africa has raised the greatest concern throughout the world, and particularly among Moroccans, especially since some studies, not yet official, put forward the hypothesis that the vaccines developed to date are ineffective against this new variant. Indeed, preliminary data from a study conducted by groups of South African scientists and posted online Wednesday, put forward the hypothesis that the new mutated virus “is largely resistant to neutralizing antibodies caused in response to infection by strains previously circulating. This is a mutation in the spike protein, which is on the surface of the virus that allows it to easily cross cells with the ability to resist antibody recognition, thus evading the immune response. In short, the antibodies generated by the vaccine immunisation could be neutralised.

In the absence of scientific confirmation, can we fear that the vaccines ordered by Morocco, namely Astrazeneca and Sinopharm, are useless against this new variant? Tayeb Hamdi, a doctor and specialist in Health Policies and Systems, considers that there is not enough evidence to corroborate the results of this study. “Until now, vaccines as currently designed remain effective against the different forms of mutation of COVID-19,” he explained, adding that the degree of accuracy of these studies has yet to be verified and validated by the scientific community.

However, even if the new South African variant has a supposed resistance to the vaccines and the immune response they generate, it cannot completely neutralise them, according to Hamdi. “In any case, the vaccines will still be effective against new strains even though the degree of effectiveness is reduced,” he explained, adding that in this case, all that needs to be done is to adapt the vaccines to this new mutation, which takes only a few weeks to process. For the time being, this hypothesis is not possible.

Tayeb Hamdi believes that the Brazilian variant discovered in Japan, which is currently under investigation, is more worrying, as it carries more mutations in the spike protein than the British and South African strain.

It should be remembered that the new British strain that is currently rampant in Europe has also been detected in Morocco. A first case has been reported in the port of Tangier. It concerns a Moroccan national coming from Ireland on a ship leaving the port of Marseille in the South of France. Although transmissible more rapidly, the British variant have little resistance to the COVID-19 vaccines.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.

January 19, 2021

Morocco COVID-19: First case of the new British variant detected in Tangiers

A first case of contamination by the COVID-19 variant that appeared in the United Kingdom was detected at the Tangier-Med port in a Moroccan man who arrived from Ireland on board a ship from Marseille, the Ministry of Health announced on Monday.

Asymptomatic, the person concerned was placed in isolation in Casablanca, the ministry said in a statement, stressing that the patient and contacts are treated in accordance with the health protocol in force in the Kingdom.

As part of the updating of the national protocol relating to COVID-19, particularly in its aspect related to the follow-up of contacts, a battery of measures has been adopted for the early detection of cases of coronavirus variants, the same source added.

The aim is also to update measures for the management of cases of disease, taking into account the epidemiological situation at national and global levels.

The Ministry of Health assures that it will continue to inform national public opinion of all developments on this subject, calling on citizens to comply with the rules of health prevention, in a spirit of patriotism and responsibility.

For more information, please consult (in French) the following link.