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The entire world is living in what seems like a scene straight out of a Hollywood thriller movie. Lives have been lost, and for many, sources of livelihood have all but ground to a halt. The only hope for the world right now is the vaccination, and it seems not to be in enough supply.
So it raises eyebrows when you hear that countries such as Malawi and South Sudan have a stockpile of vaccines that they are destroying. Malawi is said to have 16,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Oxford, while South Africa has 59,000. The vaccines have an expiry date of April 13.
Upon hearing the news of the impending intentional destruction of the COVID-19 vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) has asked the countries to hold on as it investigates the suitability of the vaccine after they have reached the expiry date.
1.7 Million Doses to be Destroyed
If you thought that was bad, you would be dumbfounded to learn that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a 1.7 million stockpile of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Out of which, the country could only use about 1,000. The rest of the vaccines expired before they could be used and are now set to be destroyed.
Most of the vaccines in these countries came from a batch with an expiry date of June 24. Some of it is now in transit to Togo and Ghana, the few countries that managed to use up all of their initial shipment of the vaccine. Much of the shipments sent to South Africa were unused as health experts say the AstraZeneca vaccine was ineffective against the variant of the virus in the southern parts of Africa.
The African Union (AU) has now embarked on redistributing the South African consignment to other parts of the continents. Never mind that the expiry date for that batch is April 13.
Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine has a 6-months Shelf Life
When stored in a normal refrigerated environment, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has a six-month shelf life. The AU bought one million doses of these vaccines in late March for distribution across countries in Africa. News emerging indicates that while some countries completely used up their batch, others used quite a dismal amount, while others like South Africa and Nigeria are returning their supplies.
According to WHO, just Togo and The Gambia were able to use up all their batches before the expiry date. There are also cases where countries did not have records of using up all their supplies and cannot account for them.
So why so much Waste?
Well, a country receiving a consignment at the airport is one thing, but laying down the logistics of delivering the vaccines across hospitals in the country is another thing altogether. Most African countries did not have a well-laid down plan on vaccine distribution. There is also the problem of staffing, with a good number of countries not having the funds to pay health workers who will administer the vaccines.
Cases of communities having doubts about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine are quite common in Africa. That could perhaps be the biggest factor that has led to so many vaccines hitting their expiry date. Reports that some people who have received the jab experienced side effects, including blood clots, only serve to reinforce these fears. There should be more public education and awareness campaigns to alleviate fears against the COVID-19 vaccines across the continent. Perhaps then, there will be little vaccine going to waste by outliving their shelf lives.