From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Federal Government, on Wednesday, expressed reservations with the foreign countries, particularly the European Union Countries that donate COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries including Nigeria.
Government was particularly concerned by the decision of these countries to donate unused COVID-19 vaccines that have residual shelf lives and are closed to losing its potential (expire).
It said they have repeatedly complained about the development to donors, and have had to reject some donations that are close to expiring, from the time they were donated
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in a statement released in Abuja, on Wednesday, explained that the government is always faced with the challenges of delivery, distribution and other logistics particularly with the vaccines that are close to expiring.
He explained: “Nigeria has utilized 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 $40 million in foreign exchange. The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then, and will be destroyed accordingly, by NAFDAC.
“Nevertheless, Nigeria has, of late enjoyed the generosity of several, mainly European Countries, who might have offered doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of their stockpiles, perhaps, 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, few 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 always communicated the challenge of short shelf lives, where upon some manufacturers offered to extend the vaccine shelf life after the fact, by three months, a practice that, though accepted by experts, is declined by the federal ministry of health, because it’s not accommodated in our standards.
“Donation of surplus COVID-19 vaccines with expiring shelf lives to developing countries has been a matter of international discussion, but developing countries like Nigeria accept them because they close critical 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.
“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.”
The Minister, however, confirmed that government share experiences with partners regularly, and lately, had politely declined vaccine donations with short shelf life or those that cannot be delivered in time.
He said: “The long term measure to prevent such incident is for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines, so that vaccines produced would have at least 12 months to expiration.
“This was why the federal ministry of health is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity. This was a goal we are pursuing with dedication and commitment.”