Africa’s vaccine dumping challenge – about 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses destroyed

Vials of Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: torstensimon from Pixabay

Vials of Covid-19 vaccine. Picture: torstensimon from Pixabay

Published Jun 6, 2021


CAPE TOWN - With an estimated 200 million spare Covid-19 doses and a further 1.5 billion doses procured for future use, wealthier countries have made solid progress in their vaccination campaigns and are now planning to give away some vaccines to poorer nations.

About 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses are expected to be donated to developing countries this year, with France having already pledged an initial 100 000 doses of AstraZeneca to the Covax facility.

But with inefficiencies in the global distribution of vaccines and the relatively short shelf-life of the Covid-19 jabs, doses are arriving in some countries too late for the shots to be used, resulting in millions of doses destroyed.

Recently the Democratic Republic of Congo sent back 1.3 million Covid-19 doses to the Covax facility, while South Sudan has notified the global Covid vaccine equity scheme that it would be handing back 72 000 doses. In addition to returning the doses, South Sudan is also planning to destroy 59 000 doses.

Last month, Malawi destroyed almost 20 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine because the vaccines were about to expire. The country had received 102 000 doses of the vaccine from the AU on March 26 and used almost 80% of them. The expiry date on the labels was April 13 and officials said this wasn't enough time to use them all.

As access to basic healthcare is already out of reach for many people in Africa, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that one in 10 medical products in developing countries are either substandard or completely falsified.

The study also found that drugs that are already past their expiry dates have often been dumped in low- or middle-income countries and many past donations have been so large or so unwanted that they could not be used entirely before their expiry dates.

Malawian Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said they destroyed the vaccines because no expired health commodities are to be used as per the government policy.

“Historically under the expanded immunisation programme of Malawi, no expired vaccine has ever been used,” she said.

The vaccines were sent by the Africa CDC to countries in late March, a few weeks before they expired. The vaccines had been bought from South Africa after it suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine over its effectiveness against the variant found in SA.

About 13 African countries received these vaccines, through a partnership between the AU and the telecommunication company MTN Group. Other than Malawi and South Sudan, Ghana and Sierra Leone had also not used all of their vaccines due to their expiry dates.

International guidelines require that drug donations are responsive to the health needs of the recipient country and that the drugs involved have a shelf-life of at least one year on arrival.

Africa accounts for less than 2% of the Covid-19 vaccines administered globally so far.

About 1.5 million Covid-19 doses have either been destroyed or sent back to the Covax facility by some African countries because they were about to expire.

Kate Ribet, spokesperson for WHO Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, said discarding vaccines was deeply regrettable in the context of any immunisation program.

“Given the complex process required to verify their stability, and the risk of negative perception related to the use of expired doses, WHO recommends that Covid-19 vaccines already in the distribution chain should not be used beyond their labelled expiry date and should be safely disposed of,” she said.

African News Agency (ANA)

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