Health campaigners in Malawi are raising concerns about growing vaccine hesitancy, as the country faces destroying thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccines that expired before they could be used.
The country is reportedly set to destroy more than 16,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — part of a shipment of 102,000 vaccines that arrived in the country in March, three weeks before their expiration date, donated by the African Union.
While the country has administered over 230,000 doses of vaccine, this has only been enough to cover 1% of its population. It also received 360,000 doses of vaccine of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX Facility — which is aiming to get 2 billion doses this year to low- and middle-income countries — and the Indian government.
Of the total number of vaccines that arrived in the country, however, just 46% were used, according to Africa News.
In the early days of the vaccination process the turnout was high, but this strong start is believed to have taken a dive as more misinformation about vaccines started to circulate, which increased hesitancy.
In an attempt to use the vaccines, four days before they could expire, the Malawian Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda, increased the eligibility of the vaccine to everyone older than 18.
George Jobe, executive director of Malawi Health Equity Network, expressed his disappointment and that he wished the vaccine could have been administered to more people.
“In the country, especially in rural areas, people are still clinging to the negative information about the vaccine. We should remember that there has been misinformation on the vaccine and now we have experienced the danger of such messages,” Jobe said.
The secretary for Ministry of Health Charles Mwanswabo has assured citizens that the expired vaccines will be disposed of.
Malawi is not the only African country set to destroy its expired vaccines. South Sudan is expected to dispose of 60,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that have expired, and Ghana is also set to bin 2,000 doses of the same.
On April 15, Africa’s division of the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a virtual discussion with regional leaders around the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and Africa’s capacity to regulate them.
Speaking at the conference Dr. Richard Mihigo, from WHO Africa, stressed the importance of vaccine safety.
“The WHO global advisory committee on vaccine safety is closely following developments and will share any findings as soon as possible. WHO considers that the benefits of vaccines far outweighs the risks,” Mihigo said.
“All African countries have a safety surveillance system in place and are reporting on any side-effects and severe adverse events that occur following vaccination," he added.
He added that more than 45 African countries have begun their vaccine rollout, with 36 using vaccines from the WHO-backed COVAX Facility. Over 13 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to so far Africa through COVAX, and over 40 million worldwide.