• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Nigerian govt speaks on expired 1m doses of COVID-19 vaccines

First vaccine for respiratory virus approved by European Commission

The federal Government on Tuesday said vaccines donated to Nigeria have short and expiring shelf life and consequently expire before usage, in addition to other logistics bottlenecks in the country.

Up to one million COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria in November without being used, two sources told Reuters exclusively, one of the biggest single losses of doses in the African continent.

The expired doses were made by AstraZeneca and delivered from Europe, the sources with direct knowledge of vaccine delivery and use told Reuters. They were supplied via COVAX, the dose-sharing facility led by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO which is increasingly reliant on donations.

A third source with knowledge of the delivery said some of the doses arrived within four-to-six weeks of expiry and could not be used in time despite efforts by health authorities.

But, Osagie Ehanire, Minister of health in a statement reacting to the report dif not confirm or deny the expiration of up to one million doses of vaccines, but said most of doses donated through COVAX, AVAT have short shelf lives of only few months that left the country very short time, and some weeks to use them.

He noted that donors often give away unused vaccines before they expire in their own stock.

Read also: Omicron: Leading philanthropies blame vaccine inequality

“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,” the Minister said.

“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 3 months, a practice that, though accepted by experts, is declined by the Federal Ministry of Health, because it is not accommodated in our standards, “he added.

The minister stressed that the donation of surplus Covid-19 vaccines with expiring shelf lives to developing Countries has been a matter of international discussion, but said developing countries like Nigeria accept them because they close critical vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save 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 added

“Donors also recognize 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” he further said.

The Minister however assured that Nigeria does not dispense vaccines with a validity extended beyond labelled expiry date, but continues to adhere to rigorous standards.

He informed that Nigeria has utilized most of the over 10m short-shelf-life doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far supplied, in good time, and saved N16.4 billion or more than $40m in foreign exchange.

“The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then, and will be destroyed accordingly, by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC ),” the minister said.

Ehanire stated that 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.

According to him, the long term measure to prevent such incident is for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines, so that vaccines produced have at least 12 months to expiration.

“This is why the Federal Ministry of Health is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity. This is a goal we are pursuing with dedication,” he added.

Adaptor Onyechi, a health expert said the expired vaccines is a major setback for Nigeria’s vaccination goal. She said the situation may deepen global vaccine inequality, explaining that Nigeria has always canvassed for more vaccines but end up destroying huge doses.