Morocco to start vaccinations on Thursday, palace says

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco will start rolling out its mass coronavirus vaccination programme on Thursday, the royal palace said, the first African country to do so.

The North African kingdom has received 2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and 500,000 doses of the vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm. It began distributing them to centres around the country earlier this week.

The palace said vaccinations will be available to all Moroccans over the age of 17 but that health, security and teaching staff will receive the first shots.

People can register via a website for the vaccines, which will be given for free at 3,000 locations around Morocco.

Both are conventional vaccines that need only ordinary storage requirements as already used in Morocco, rather than the ultra-cold facilities needed for some other shots.

The government signed a deal with Sinopharm in August which involved conducting clinical trials in Morocco and announced plans to set up a production plant.

King Mohammed VI and Chinese President Xi Jinping had also discussed vaccine cooperation. Morocco agreed a deal in September to buy AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

Morocco plans to vaccinate 25 million people, or 80% of its population, within three months.

But with increasing global competition for vaccine doses, the North African country’s ability to roll out a wide scale national programme depends on a steady flow of supply, health ministry officials said.

By Wednesday, Morocco had recorded 468,383 coronavirus cases, including 8,207 deaths, with 13,995 cases still active.

Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, Editing by Angus McDowall, William Maclean and Catherine Evans