Malawi destroys nearly 200 000 expired coronavirus vaccine doses

Malawi's Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda (centre) lifts out a pack of expired Covid-19 Astra Zeneca from a transit box at an official ceremony at a pharmaceutical incinerator where the vaccines are to be destroyed at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe.

In a puff of smoke, Malawi destroyed nearly 20 000 expired Covid-19 vaccine doses on Wednesday.

The destruction of 19 610 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine was a publicised event.

Health Minister Khumbize Chaponda personally threw plastic bags of the expired vials into an incinerator, in a video posted to the health ministry’s Twitter page.

It also shared an image of the incinerator chimney, puffing smoke as evidence that the doses were now out of circulation.

“We are destroying [the doses] publicly in order to stay accountable to Malawians that the vaccines that expired are not being used during the vaccination campaign and on behalf of the government, I assure all Malawians that no one will be given an expired Covid vaccine,” said Chapona.

The ministry assured the public the country still had enough stocks to continue its vaccine rollout campaign. Malawi has recorded 1 153 deaths due to Covid-19.

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Even as the infection rate seems to be slowing, the ministry warned the country’s neighbours were experiencing a resurgence, and urged citizens to remain vigilant.

The destroyed AstraZeneca vaccines expired on 13 April 2021.

Last month, Malawi warned it would not be able vaccinate its population before the expiry dates, and would have to destroy certain doses.

It took delivery of 102 000 vaccine doses at the end of March, acquired via the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

Malawi’s vaccine campaign began in March with a delivery from the vaccine acquisition alliance Covax.

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Its vaccine rollout campaign has been sluggish, hindered by vaccine hesitancy and system glitches.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and African Centres for Disease Control (CDC) initially urged countries to avoid destroying vaccines.

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Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said analysis showed the doses produced by the Serum Institute of India could be used until mid-July.

On Monday, WHO Africa updated this advisory, particularly on the AstraZeneca vaccine, known by its commercial name Covishield.

A vaccine’s shelf life was reflection of its potency, the WHO said.

“Any vaccine that has passed its expiry date, including Covishield, should not be administered.

“While discarding vaccines is deeply regrettable in the context of any immunisation programme, WHO recommends that these expired doses should be removed from the distribution chain and safely disposed,” it said in a statement.

Malawi is not the only African nation that has to contend with expired vaccines. South Sudan has also warned it might have to destroy expiring AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

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