Awka – The Federal Government on Wednesday said it will henceforth politely decline all COVID-19 vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that cannot be delivered in time.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire disclosed this today while responding to reports circulating in the media to the effect that some Covid-19 vaccines had expired in Nigeria.
The Health Minister who said it became imperative to properly brief the public and set records right, noted that Nigeria has, of late enjoyed the generosity of several, mainly European countries, who have offered her doses of Covid-19 vaccines out of their stockpiles, free of charge, through COVAX or AVAT facility.
He however said some of them had residual shelf lives of only few months that left the country very short time, some just weeks, to use them, after deduction of time to transport, clear, distribute and deliver to users.
According to him, 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 cost.
“This dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low and medium income countries find themselves.
“Donors also recognize a need to give away unused vaccines, before they expire in their own stock, but they need to begin the process early enough and create a well-oiled pathway for prompt shipment and distribution through the COVAX and AVAT facilities, to reduce risk of expiration.
“With better coordination, vaccines need not expire in the stock of donors or recipients,” he said.
Ehanire revealed that Nigeria has utilized most of the over 10m short-shelf-life doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far supplied to her in good time, and saved N16.4B or more than $40m in foreign exchange.
The vaccines that expired he noted, 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,” the Minister said.
He maintained that the long term measure to prevent such incident is for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines, so that vaccines produced will have at least 12 months to expiration.
“This is why the Federal Ministry of Health is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity.
“This is a goal we are pursuing with dedication,” Ehanire noted.