Story at a glance
- Africa’s top health official said at least 2.8 million donated COVID-19 doses had recently expired.
- He asked vaccine donors to only provide shots that can last at least three to six months before expiring.
- Just less than 62 percent of Africa’s vaccine supply has been administered out of the approximately 500 million donated.
A top health official is asking vaccine donors to consider shots that have a longer shelf life, as the world’s second largest continent reported millions of doses had recently expired.
Speaking during a virtual briefing this week, Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director John Nkengasong explained that at least 2.8 million doses of donated COVID-19 vaccines had expired, saying it was due to the shots’ short shelf life. A growing number of African nations are beginning to refuse vaccine donations if they are only viable for one to two months before their expiration, according to The Associated Press (AP).
“Any dose of vaccine that expired pains me because that is a life that can potentially be saved,” Nkengasong said.
The AP noted that the expired doses only accounted for about 0.5 percent of the total number of vaccines donated to Africa.
Storage and expiration rates vary by vaccine, with Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose vaccine requiring freezing temperatures, but it extends the vaccine’s shelf life for up to six months. However, Moderna’s two-dose vaccine, which also requires frozen storage, can only be used up to 30 days after it’s been thawed and put in a refrigerator.
The AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t require freezing temperatures, and an unopened vial has a shelf life of six months when stored in a refrigerator.
The latest data from the Africa CDC indicates more than 10 percent of the nation has been fully vaccinated, while about 15 percent are considered partially vaccinated. Just less than 62 percent of Africa’s vaccine supply has been administered, out of the approximately 500 million donated.
Nkengasong said the biggest hurdle in African countries will be the logistics of getting COVID-19 doses to populations. According to the AP, in places like Nigeria, an increasing number of vaccination centers are popping up in public hotspots like markets and motor parks, while health authorities are collaborating with local leaders to fight vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccination rates vary widely across Africa, with South Africa reporting that, out of its 59 million population almost, 21 percent is partially vaccinated. Moving to the central part of the continent, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a population of 89 million, less than 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
However, Africa is slowly making headway as the World Health Organization (WHO) regional office for Africa reported on Thursday that the nation has experienced a significant drop in cases and deaths for the first time since the peak of the current wave of the pandemic. Newly reported cases fell by 20 percent in the week of Jan. 16 while deaths dropped by 8 percent.
“So long as the virus continues to circulate, further pandemic waves are inevitable. Africa must not only broaden vaccinations, but also gain increased and equitable access to critical COVID-19 therapeutics to save lives and effectively combat this pandemic,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement.
Despite the slowdown in new COVID-19 cases, WHO says the African region’s fatality rate remains the highest in the world, with only 2 intensive care unit beds available per 100,000 population.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW