European Union

Rich nations’ near-expired ‘donation’ jabs saw 100 million vaccine shots rejected in December: UN

In December alone, poor countries refused to accept about 100 million donated COVID-19 vaccine doses, mainly because of their short shelf life, the United Nations said Thursday.

The World Health Organization has also condemned the “moral shame” of high-income countries hoarding vaccine supplies and then sharing their near-expiry doses with jab-starved poorer countries.

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Shocking images of Nigerian authorities disposing of over a million expired AstraZeneca doses last month brought the issue to light.

As part of Covax, a global program to ensure that vaccine doses reach poorer nations, UNICEF uses its vaccine logistics expertise to handle delivery flights.

UNICEF’s supply division director Etleva Kadilli told the committee of the European Parliament in December that “we had almost more than 100 million doses that have been refused because of countries’ capacities”.

“The majority of refusals are due to product shelf life.”

“The short shelf life is really creating a major bottleneck for countries to plan their vaccination campaigns,” Kadilli explained.

“Until we have a better shelf life, this is going to be a pressure point for the countries, specifically when countries want to reach populations in hard-to-reach areas.”

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Kadilli told lawmakers that EU donations account for a third of the doses delivered through Covax so far.

During October-November, 15 million EU-donated doses were rejected, 75 per cent of which were AstraZeneca shots with a shelf life of less than 10 weeks on arrival.

Kadilli noted that several nations are requesting that deliveries be delayed until after March, when they might be in a better position to deal with the pressure on the cold storage chain.

Many countries “come back and request split shipments — they want to push doses towards the next quarter”, she said.

“And I’m talking here also for large, big countries where naturally you’d think that they do have the capacity.”

Covax is a collaborative effort between the WHO, Gavi, and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It is about to deliver its billionth vaccine dose via UNICEF.

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The WHO announced on December 29 that 92 of its 194 member states missed their target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations by the end of 2021.

“This is due to a combination of limited supply going to low-income countries for most of the year and then subsequent vaccines arriving close to expiry and without key parts like the syringes,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“It’s not only a moral shame; it cost lives.”

On Thursday, he said 9.4 billion vaccine doses have been administered to people around the world, but more than 85 per cent of Africans have not received a single dose.

“Some of the supply constraints we faced last year are now starting to ease, but we still have a long way to go to reach our target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population of every country by the middle of this year,” Tedros told member states.

(With inputs from agencies)