Donated COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf life ‘major problem’ – WHO
An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said wealthy countries donating COVID-19 vaccines with a relatively short shelf life has been a “major problem” for the COVAX dose sharing programme.
Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s vaccine director, said in a briefing the proportion of wasted doses is smaller in countries receiving doses through COVAX than in many high-income countries.
Her comments come as concerns grow that many African countries are finding they do not have the capacity to get shots in arms before they expire.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that up to 1 million vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria last month without being used, one of the biggest single losses of doses that shows the difficulty African nations have getting shots in arms.
Reacting to the short shelf life of the vaccines, Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire said, “Nigeria has, of late enjoyed the generosity of several, mainly European countries, who have offered us doses of Covid-19 vaccines out of their stockpiles, free of charge, through COVAX or AVAT facility.
“These donations are always acknowledged and thankfully received: however, some of them had residual shelf lives of only few months that left us very short time, some just weeks, to use them, after deduction of time to transport, clear, distribute and deliver to users. If such vaccines arrive back-to-back or are many, logistic bottlenecks occasionally arise.
He noted that, “We appreciate the kind gesture of donors, but also communicated the challenge of short shelf lives, whereupon some manufacturers offered to extend the vaccine shelf life after the fact, by three months, a practice that, though accepted by experts, is declined by the Federal Ministry of Health, because it is not accommodated in our standards.
“Nigeria does not dispense vaccines with a validity extended beyond labelled expiry date. We continue to adhere to our rigorous standards.
He said that, “Donation of surplus Covid-19 vaccines with expiring shelf lives to Developing Countries has been a matter of international discussion.
“Developing countries like Nigeria accept them because they close our critical vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save us scarce foreign exchange procurement cost.
“This dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many Low- and medium-income countries find themselves,” he said.