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Health officials concerned about expiry date of vaccines

Saturday July 31 2021
Ethiopia’s Health Minister Lia Tadesse receives a box of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines,

Ethiopia’s Health Minister Lia Tadesse receives a box of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, delivered as a part of the UN-led Covax initiative. PHOTO | FILE

By ELIZABETH MERAB

With millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses expected to be available to African countries in the coming weeks, public health officials are worried about the short expiration dates.

Covax has allocated 60 million doses to 49 African countries to be shipped between July and September 2021, said Matshidiso Moeti, the Africa regional director at the World Health Organisation, at a press briefing on Thursday.

This comes after wealthy nations, which have vaccinated substantial amounts of their populations, began donating doses on a broader scale.

At least 820 million two-dose vaccines (or half of that for the single-dose vaccines) are needed to reach the target of fully vaccinated, 30 percent of Africa’s population by the end of this year.

Covax has sealed deals to supply 110 million doses to low-income countries, 32.5 million of which are coming to Africa. Deliveries from the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) are picking up, with a projected rise to 10 million each month from September. Around 45 million doses are expected from AVAT by the year’s end.

Confusion

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But concerns about the expiration dates of vaccines abound with recent confusion around the expiration dates of 900,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated to 13 countries by MTN that had an April 13 expiration date. Later, the Serum Institute of India, the manufacturer, extended the shelf-life to July 13.

DR Congo and South Sudan returned the doses to Covax for redistribution to countries with capacity to deploy them before their expiration dates.

“That [redistribution], frankly, spends more time and energy which could be used in a rollout of the vaccines,” said Dr Moeti.

“We are particularly concerned that some of the donations may have very short timelines in terms of expiry dates,” she added.

To avoid a similar scenario that saw some countries destroy 450,000 doses of expired Covid-19 vaccines since the beginning of the rollout, John Nkengasong, director at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, appealed to countries to donate vaccines with at least a three-to four-month shelf life.

The expiry dates, shipment delays and financing issues have already affected vaccine roll out in 11 countries -- Malawi, South Sudan, Liberia, Mauritania, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Comoros, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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