Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire yesterday explained why one million doses of the donated COVID-19 vaccines given to Nigeria by some international donors expired and were eventual withdrawn from circulation.
He assured Nigerians that there were no expired COVID-19 vaccines in circulation, stating that vaccines expiration was not limited to Nigeria.
Ehanire stated these in Abuja while reacting to an online publication that nearly one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had expired last month.
The minister stressed that the best way to end such occurrences would be for the country to begin the production of its own vaccines.
According to data from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), as of December 6, about 7,244,620 of total eligible persons had received their first dose. The data added that 3,811,693 had received their second dose – fully vaccinated.
Ehanire said: “The attention of the Federal Ministry of Health has been drawn to reports circulating in the media to the effect that some Covid-19 vaccines had expired in Nigeria.
“Nigeria has, of late, enjoyed the generosity of several, mainly European countries, who have offered us doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of their stockpiles, free of charge, through COVAX or AVAT facility. These donations are always acknowledged and thankfully received. However, some of them had residual shelf lives of only a few months that left us very short time, some just weeks, to use them, after deduction of time to transport, clear, distribute and deliver to users. If such vaccines arrive back-to-back or are many, logistic bottlenecks occasionally arise.
“We appreciate the kind gesture of donors, but also communicated the challenge of short shelf lives, whereupon some manufacturers offered to extend the vaccine shelf life after the fact, by 3 months, a practice that, though accepted by experts, is declined by the Federal Ministry of Health, because it is not accommodated in our standards. Nigeria does not dispense vaccines with a validity extended beyond labelled expiry date. We continue to adhere to our rigorous standards.
“Donation of surplus Covid-19 vaccines with expiring shelf lives to developing countries has been a matter of international discussion. Developing countries like Nigeria accept them because they close our critical vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save us scarce foreign exchange procurement costs. This dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low- and medium-income countries find themselves.”
Ehanire added: “Nigeria has utilised most of the over 10 million short-shelf-life doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far supplied to us, in good time, and saved N16.4 billion or more than $40m in foreign exchange. The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then, and will be destroyed accordingly, by NAFDAC.
“The Ministry of Health shares its experience with partners regularly and now politely declines all vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that cannot be delivered in time.”