The Federal Government on Wednesday said vaccines donated to Nigeria through COVAX and AVAT have short expiration shelf lives and could expire before usage.
Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of health, said this in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja. According to him, with short shelf lives of only few months it leaves the country very short time and some weeks to use them.
He said that donors often give away unused vaccines before they expire in their own stock. Ehanire added that at times, logistic bottlenecks in the country could made some of them to expire before usage.
“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 have residual shelf lives of only 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 we also communicate the challenge of short shelf lives,” he said. Ehanire said that some manufacturers offered to extend the vaccine shelf life by three months.
He said the practice, though accepted by experts, was declined by the Federal Ministry of Health, because it was not accommodated in its standards.
The minister said that the donation of surplus COVID-19 vaccines with expiring shelf lives to developing countries had been a matter of international discussion.
He said that developing countries like Nigeria accepted the vaccines because of vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save 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,” he added. According to him, donors also recognise a need to give away unused vaccines, before they expire in their own stock.
Ehanire said the donors needed 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 the risk of expiration.
He said that with better coordination, vaccines needed not expire in the stock of Donors or Recipients.
The Minister, however, assured that Nigeria did not dispense vaccines with a validity extended beyond labelled expiry date, but continued to adhere to rigorous standards.
He said that Nigeria had utilised most of the over 10 million short-shelf-life doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far supplied, in good time, and saved N16.4 billion or more than US$40 million in foreign exchange.
“The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then, and will be destroyed accordingly, by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC ),” he said.
Ehanire stated that FMOH shares its experience with partners regularly and now politely declines all vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that could not be delivered on time.
He said that the long-term measure to prevent such incident was for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines, so that vaccines produced had at least 12 months of expiration date.
“This is why the FMOH is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity.
Ehanire said this is a goal the ministry is pursuing with dedication.