THE Nigerian government has blamed donors and manufacturers for the expiration of a large percentage of its COVID-19 vaccines.
Reacting to a report by Reuters on Wednesday that one million COVID-19 vaccine doses expired in Nigeria, Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire said manufacturers produced the vaccines with short shelf lives.
Though he appreciated donor countries supporting developing nations with the vaccines, he said they often did so because “they recognise a need to give away unused vaccines, before they expire in their stock.”
Reuters’ report had exposed how up to one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines expired in Nigeria last month, following vaccine apathy, hesitancy, weak health system and other causes, not only in Nigeria but Africa.
Data on the National Primary Health Care Development Agency(NPHDA)’s website show that only 3.8 million of the targeted population have been fully vaccinated.
Reuters’ report shows that only 102 million people, or 7.5 per cent of Africa’s nearly 1.5 billion population are fully vaccinated against the virus.
In his reaction, Ehanire said vaccine donations should be made with early processing and the creation of a well-oiled pathway for prompt shipment and distribution through the COVAX and AVAT facilities to reduce the risk of expiration.
Some of the vaccines donated had residual shelf lives of only a few months “that left us a very short time, some just weeks, to use them, after deduction of time to transport, clear, distribute and deliver to users. If such vaccines arrive back-to-back or are many, logistic bottlenecks occasionally arise.”
The minister said the donation of surplus COVID-19 vaccines with expiry shelf lives to developing countries had been a matter of international discussion.
The minister was silent on the actual number of expired COVID-19 vaccine disposed of by Nigeria.
He said the expired vaccines had long been removed and would be destroyed by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
He did not state when the agency would destroy them.
According to him, developing countries received vaccines from donor countries “because they close our critical vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save us scarce foreign exchange procurement cost. This dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low- and medium-income countries find themselves.”
He added that Nigeria had utilised most of the over 10 million short-shelf-life doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far donated and saved N16.4 billion or more than $40 million in foreign exchange.
The minister said following the country’s complaints about the vaccines lifespan, some manufacturers agreed to extend the shelf life by three months.
“The Ministry of Health shares its experience with partners regularly and now politely declines all vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that cannot be delivered in time.
“The long-term measure to prevent such incidents is for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines so that vaccines produced have at least 12 months to expiration. This is why the Federal Ministry of Health collaborates with stakeholders to fast-track the establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity. This is a goal we are pursuing with dedication,” he stated.