Malawi on Wednesday, May 19, destroyed 19,610 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that expired 18 days after arriving, despite assurances from the African Union (AU) and World Health Organisation (WHO) that the vaccines were safe until mid-July.
The vaccines were part of the batch of 102,000 that had arrived in the country on March 26, under an AU and WHO initiative. They expired on April 13.
Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda put some of the vials of the expired doses into an incinerator to start the destruction 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 immunization program 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 burned vaccines were the remainder of 102,000 doses that arrived in Malawi on March 26 with just 18 days until they expired on April 13. All other doses of the shipment, donated by the African Union, were successfully administered, she said.
The health minister thanked WHO, the African Union, and India for donating the vaccines.
“This has made it possible for Malawi to embark on the COVID vaccination campaign currently underway,” she said.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), part of the AU, said in a news conference last month that the shots could be used until July 13, based on a further analysis conducted by manufacturers the Serum Institute of India.
He and the WHO also urged African countries not to waste vaccines donated to them.
However, the Malawian government said it would not give expired vaccines to its citizens.
Chiponda blamed a hesitant uptake of the jabs on ‘propaganda against the AstraZeneca vaccine’ after Austria this week became the third European country to drop AstraZeneca, after Norway and Denmark ditched the vaccine over rare cases of severe blood clots in people receiving the jab.
The calls not to destroy the vaccines came too late for Malawi, ministry of health spokesman Joshua Malango told The Associated Press news agency.
‘We had stopped observation of proper storage mechanisms and the vaccines would have still been damaged in one way or the other,’ he said.
The destruction of the vaccines was witnessed by several top officials ‘in order to enhance transparency,’ health secretary Charles Mwansambo said.