LILONGWE, Malawi: Health authorities in Malawi have destroyed 19,610 doses of expired AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines.
Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda put some of the vials of the expired doses into an incinerator to start the destruction on Wednesday at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, the capital.
“We are destroying [these vaccines] because as government policy no expired health commodities are to be used,” she said.
“Historically under the expanded immunisation programme of Malawi no expired vaccine has ever been used.”
She said burning the vaccines will build public confidence that all vaccines used in Malawi are good.
“We are destroying publicly in order to stay accountable to Malawians. The vaccines that expired are not being used during the vaccination campaign,” she said. “On behalf of the government, I assure all Malawians that no one will be given an expired Covid vaccine.”
The doses were part of a batch of 102,000 vaccines which arrived on March 26, under an initiative by the African Union and the World Health Organization. They expired on April 13, leaving less than three weeks for them to be used. Malawi managed to deploy about 80% of them by that time.
The destruction of the vaccines was witnessed by several top officials “in order to enhance transparency”, Health Secretary Charles Mwansambo said.
Malawi will still have adequate stocks of Covid-19 vaccines in public and private health facilities, he said. The government has not said where will it get more vaccines.
Last month, the WHO urged African nations not to destroy expired doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine after several countries received doses from India with a very short shelf life. But this week, WHO reversed its position and said the vaccines should be destroyed.
South Sudan has set aside 59,000 doses supplied by the AU and is not using them because of the same expiration issue.
The Ministry of Health said the country had administered 335,232 vaccine doses as of May 18, and recorded 34,231 Covid infections and 1,153 deaths.
African countries have struggled to secure enough Covid-19 vaccines to roll out mass immunisation. Many rely on deliveries from global vaccine scheme COVAX, which is co-led by the WHO and partners including the Gavi vaccines alliance.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) says it hopes to start delivering coronavirus vaccines to COVAX and to other countries by the end of the year. The delay will significantly set back global efforts to immunise people against Covid-19.
The SII is the world’s biggest vaccine-maker. The company said in March that it was postponing all exports of coronavirus vaccines to deal with the explosive surge of cases on the subcontinent.
At the time, the WHO said it expected Covid-19 vaccine deliveries from India to resume by June and the interruption would affect about 90 million doses.