By Lameck Masina
BLANTYRE, MALAWI - Malawi's government says it will go ahead with plans to destroy thousands of expired COVID-19 vaccine doses, despite calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Centre for Disease Control not to destroy them.
The WHO and Africa CDC this week urged African countries not to destroy COVID-19 vaccines that may have passed their expiration dates, saying they are still safe to use. However, Malawi's government says the appeals have come too late to prevent the destruction of thousands of doses of expired COVID vaccines.
Officials said the 16,440 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that expired April 13 have already been removed from cold storage.
Thursday, the WHO and the Africa CDC had urged African countries not to destroy the vaccine that may have expired, saying it is still usable.
“And it’s also a requirement that every vile manufactured, has an expiry date beyond which it cannot be used," said Dr. Charles Mwansambo, Malawi’s secretary for health. "In this case, we cannot proceed to use these because the vile clearly states the expiry date. And any doctor, any physician would not be forgiven in the event of anything happening after knowingly used a vile that is clearly having labeled as having expired.”
The expired vaccine is part of the 102,000-dose donation the country received in March from the African Union.
Malawi and South Sudan earlier announced plans to destroy about 70,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that expired last month.
Mwansambo also said using the expired vaccine would scare people from taking the jabs from the remaining stock.
“If we leave or store these expired vaccines that will be big blow to our vaccination drive people will not come. Now even though we are not using them people have been hesitant to come because they feel that we might be given the expired vaccines,” he said.
Mwansambo said the country may be considering extending the shelf life of the remaining stock of vaccine received through the COVAX facility and from the Indian government that expires in June and July.
George Jobe, the executive director for the Malawi Health Equity Network, said using the expired COVID-19 vaccine would create a negative attitude in people.
“We can have phobia from Malawians which we should not. If the [expired] vaccines are safe, the CDC can take the expired vaccines, or WHO, and donate to the developed countries. But we have to witness the day the vaccines are leaving Malawi.”
Mwansambo said destroying the expired vaccine is in line with Malawi government guidelines on expired pharmaceutical products.
He said the government will soon announce the date when it will publicly destroy the expired vaccine in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.