*We received them with short residual shelf life — FG
*There is problem on our hands — Tomori
By Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale with agency report
Not less than one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have expired in the last one month in Nigeria without being used even, as the Federal Government said that some of the donated vaccine doses had short residual shelf lives.
A Reuters report, on Wednesday, quoted two sources with direct knowledge of vaccine delivery and use as stating that the expired doses were made by AstraZeneca, delivered from Europe and supplied via COVAX, the dose-sharing facility led by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the World Health Organisation, WHO.
According to the report, a third source with knowledge of the delivery confirmed that some of the doses arrived within four-to-six weeks of expiry and could not be used in time, despite efforts by health authorities, even as the total count of the expired doses is still underway and an official number is yet to be finalised.
According to the WHO, the doses had expired and 800,000 additional doses that had been at risk of expiry in October were all used in time.
“Nigeria is doing everything it can. But it’s struggling with short shelf life vaccines. Now (supply is) unpredictable and they’re sending too much,” WHO noted.
“Vaccine wastage is to be expected in any immunisation programme, and in the context of COVID-19 deployment is a global phenomenon.
“The vaccines delivered with ‘very short’ shelf lives were a problem,” the WHO said in a statement.
There’re bottlenecks — FG
In a reaction, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the vaccines, which were received in form of donations through COVAX and AVATT facility had residual shelf lives leaving the country with a limited period to facilitate distribution and usage.
“The attention of the Federal Ministry of Health has been drawn to reports circulating in the media to the effect that some COVID-19 vaccines had expired in Nigeria.
“This press statement is to properly brief the public and set records right.
“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 a few months that left us a 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.
“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.
“Donors also recognise a need to give away unused vaccines, before they expire in their own stock, but they need to begin the process early enough and create a well-oiled pathway for prompt shipment and distribution through the COVAX and AVAT facilities, to reduce risk of expiration.
“With better coordination, vaccines need not expire in the stock of Donors or Recipients.
Further, Ehanire said: “Nigeria had utilized most of the over 10 million short-shelf-life doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far supplied, in good time, and saved N16.4 billion or more than $40 million in foreign exchange.
“The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then and will be destroyed accordingly by NAFDAC.
“The Ministry of Health shares its experience with partners regularly and now politely declines all vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that cannot be delivered in time.
“The long-term measure to prevent such incident is for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines so that vaccines produced to have at least 12 months to expiration.
“This is why the Federal Ministry of Health is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track the establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity. This is a goal we are pursuing with dedication.”
No dose should go to waste
In his reaction, Chairman of Bio-Vaccine Board and board member of the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation, GAVI, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said that it was a sad development if it truly happened.
He said: “There is a problem on our hands. How come a country that just vaccinated less than four per cent of its adult population will allow its vaccine to expire.
“It means we have not succeeded in creating awareness among our people to make sure they get vaccinated
“By now with number of people we have in this country, those vaccines, even if its 10 million doses, shouldn’t last for two weeks for people to take it.
“If people are not taking it, that is the question we should be asking. Part of the reason for booster doses is that they don’t want it to waste
“Since people are not coming to take, they decided to give those interested and had already been vaccinated, booster dose. So that we don’t waste the vaccine.”
Tomori said that Nigerians should get vaccinated: “I support compulsory vaccination because we need to protect ourselves and others.”
Nigeria’s vaccine loss appears to be one of the largest of its kind over such a short time period, even outstripping the total number of vaccines that some other countries in the region have received.