Poorer nations reject over 100 million COVID shots as many close to expiry

  • Short shelf life, lack of refrigerators are the main reasons for refusal
  • Nearly 700 million doses delivered stored in poor countries
  • WHO COVAX program nears delivery of one billion doses

BRUSSELS, Jan. 13 (Reuters) – Poorer countries last month rejected more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the global COVAX program, mainly due to their rapid expiration date, said Thursday a UNICEF official.

The big figure shows the difficulties of vaccinating the world despite increasing vaccine stocks, with COVAX closing in on delivering one billion doses to nearly 150 countries in total.

“More than 100 million were rejected in December alone,” Etleva Kadilli, director of the Supply Division of the United Nations agency UNICEF, told lawmakers in the European Parliament.

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The main reason for the rejection was the administration of doses with a short shelf life, she said.

Poorer countries have also been forced to delay supplies because they do not have sufficient storage facilities, Kadilli said, including the lack of refrigerators for vaccines.

Many countries also face high levels of reluctance to immunize and have overburdened health systems.

UNICEF did not immediately respond to a question about the total number of doses rejected so far.

Many more are in storage awaiting use in the poorest countries.

UNICEF data on supplies and use of delivered vaccines shows that 681 million shipped doses are currently in storage in around 90 poorest countries, according to CARE, a charity, which pulled the figures from a database. public data.

More than 30 poor countries, including large states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, have used less than half of the doses they received, CARE said.

A spokesperson for Gavi, a vaccine alliance that co-manages COVAX, said the high storage level was due to increased shipments in the last quarter, particularly in December.

Gavi added that most of the vaccines recently shipped by COVAX have a long shelf life and are therefore unlikely to be wasted.

MORE DELIVERIES

COVAX, which is co-led by the World Health Organization, has so far delivered 987 million COVID-19 vaccines to 144 countries, according to Gavi data.

COVAX is the main supplier of doses to dozens of poor countries, but it is not the only one. Some countries purchase the doses themselves or use other regional vaccine procurement programs.

The supply to the poorest countries has long been severely limited due to the lack of vaccines, as the richer states obtained most of the doses initially available from December 2020.

But in the last quarter, shipments increased exponentially thanks to donations from rich countries which vaccinated the majority of their populations.

As of January, 67% of the population in rich countries had been fully immunized, while only 8% of poor countries received their first dose, according to WHO figures.

The increased supply caught many host countries off guard.

“We have countries pushing back the currently available doses to the second quarter of 2022,” Kadilli said.

Of the 15 million EU doses that have been refused, three-quarters were AstraZeneca injections with a shelf life of less than 10 weeks on arrival, according to a slide from UNICEF.

Wealthy countries donating vaccines with relatively short shelf lives have been a “major problem” for COVAX, a senior WHO official said last month. Read more

“You want to have enough time to move the vaccines from the depots,” Kenya health ministry spokesman Mburugu Gikunda said, noting that doses near the expiration date would be wasted if accepted.

Reuters reported in December that up to a million vaccines would have expired in Nigeria in November without being used. Read more

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Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; additional reporting by Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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