The AU’s disease control body and World Health Organisation on has urged African countries not to destroy Covid-19 vaccines donated to them, after Malawi and South Sudan announced that vaccines noted to them were expired and would now be destroyed.
Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), John Nkengasong, during a news conference appealed to member states saying, “if we are doing our part to mobilise these vaccines, you do your part and use the vaccines”.
But Nkengasong, the continent’s top public health official, said the Africa CDC had informed countries receiving the donations that the shots could be used until July 13, based on a further analysis conducted by the Serum Institute.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Africa director, told a separate briefing that the shots made by the Serum Institute should be stored until more information was available.
“My understanding is that the expiry date could be several months longer than had initially been envisaged. But we will look for the definitive information,” she said.
A spokesperson for Malawi’s health ministry said on Thursday that he was not aware of Nkengasong’s comments but that the decision to incinerate the AstraZeneca doses was in line with government guidelines on expired pharmaceutical products.
He added that more than 80% of the 102,000 doses donated via the AU had been used before April 13.
Peter Aguek Akon, director-general of South Sudan’s Drugs and Food Control Authority, said it was up to the health ministry to inform the regulator if the vaccine’s expiry date had been extended.
“If they get the letter of extension, then they should bring the letter to us as a regulator to review if it will be acceptable,” he said.
African countries have struggled to secure enough Covid-19 vaccines to roll out mass immunisation campaigns. Many are reliant on donations from global vaccine scheme Covax, which is co-led by the WHO and partners including the Gavi vaccines alliance.
Nkengasong said 15-milion Covid-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Africa, out of a population of 1.3-billion. The Africa CDC has set a target of vaccinating 60% of the continent’s population, or 750-million people.