MONROVIA-The 96,000 doses of Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine donated by the African Union (AU) with support from MTN, expired mid last month, but health authorities have been administering vaccines to people failing to state which of the vaccines that are being given.
The vaccines arrived in March 2021 as the first part of the 384,000 doses that were expected to be delivered to the country over the next months through the COVAX Facility, the global initiative that is leading efforts to secure fair and equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for every country in the world, including low and middle-income countries.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab vaccine has since expired and is not clear whether it is the Jab vaccine that is being administered in Liberia or the Covid-19 vaccine. The first high profile person to take her vaccine was former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The AU bought one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from South Africa, which had stopped using the jab amid doubts over its effectiveness against a new variant that had become dominant in the country.
The Africa Center for Decease Control CDC, sent the doses to African countries in late March this year, a few weeks before they expired and were sponsored by the international telecommunication giant, MTN.
When this paper contacted top officials at the ministry of health for comments on this issue of outdated vaccine, one official retorted, “We are a responsible country and will do nothing that will go against international best practices”.
The source said that the Astra Zeneca vaccine from COVAX facility will expire July 10, 2021. The official said best international standards practices are carried out on expired pharmaceuticals. “When we know drugs are to expire, they are removed from the storage facilities and disposed of consistent with WHO guidelines.”
But the official failed to comment on the vaccine donated by the AU saying, “Our minister of health will speak to that when the time comes.”
When this paper spoke with the Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, in Grand Bassa county on the matter two weeks ago: she said, “we will address this matter next week(which was last week) when we get to Monrovia but for now, no comment.”
Already about 817 health care workers have taken the vaccine. One of them this reporter met in Buchanan two weeks ago said: “I am just from taking the vaccine. The only thing is it can make your hand weak for some time. This is my card. I do not know whether it expired, but I took it.”
WHO urges Nations to keep Expired VACCINE?
According to international media, the World Health Organization last week appealed to countries to keep expired vaccine until they can instruct them on what next.
The vaccine doses were donated to 13 African countries through a partnership between the African Union (AU) and the telecommunication company MTN Group, the BBC reported.
The AU bought one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from South Africa, which had stopped using the jab amid doubts over its effectiveness against a new variant of corvid 19 that had become dominant in the country.
The Africa CDC sent the doses to countries in late March, a few weeks before they expired.
BBC reported that The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged African countries not to destroy Covid-19 vaccines that may have passed their expiry date.
Countries have been told to keep hold of them and wait for further guidance.
The appeal comes after Malawi and South Sudan said they would destroy more than 70,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because they expired in mid-April this year.
But the Africa Centers for Disease Control (Africa CDC) said it had been assured the doses were safe to use.
Many vaccines can be used up to 36 months after manufacture, but because Covid-19 jabs are so new there is not enough data to prove their effectiveness over longer periods.
The final decision on whether to use expired jabs rests with national drug regulators, the BBC’s health reporter in Nairobi, Rhoda Odhiambo, stressed.
The rollout of coronavirus vaccines across Africa has been slow, partly because of supply issues and wider skepticism about the vaccine.
“My appeal to member states is: if we are doing our part to mobilize these vaccines, you do your part and use the vaccines,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, told a news conference on Thursday.
Malawi said it planned to destroy more than 16,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), because their expiry date was 13 April.
South Sudan, meanwhile, planned to discard some 59,000 doses for the same reason.
The WHO’s Africa regional director Matshidiso Moeti urged countries to “store the vaccines safely as we continue to study and try to get definitive advice on whether the vaccines can be used for longer”.
Other than Malawi and South Sudan, the WHO said Ghana and Sierra Leone had also not used all of their vaccines due to their expiry dates. Sierra Leone’s health minister said the country had been left with about a third of the doses they received. “We had to scramble to make sure that we prioritize the use of these vaccines,” Austin Demby told the BBC
However, A senior official at the Ministry of Health told this paper late Monday that “the expired vaccines have been destroyed already. But we did not want to tell the public due to fear.”