About 40 000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will expire next Tuesday, a development that has compelled Ministry of Health to scale up the vaccine administration.
In an interview yesterday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the expiring doses are part of the 102 000 doses which government received from the African Union (AU).
He said the ministry has since increased Covid-19 vaccination centres to reach out to many Malawians and ensure that the 40 000 doses are used before expiry.
Said Malango: “We are hopeful that we will finish the remaining doses because we have now scaled up our team to conduct the vaccination in various centres. Some are even going to working places and places of worship for vaccination. The vaccine is also open to everyone now as we are in Phase Three.”
He said of the current stock of vaccine available in Malawi, those with the longest lifespan will expire in July this year.
Ministry of Health’s Public Health Institute of Malawi Covid-19 reports indicate that in the week between April 1 and 7, 31 631 people were vaccinated while 79 652 got vaccinated between March 31 and 25, the highest number since President Lazarus Chakwera launched the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine administration on March 11 2021 in Zomba.
In the week between March 18 and 24, 39 220 people got the jab, while the week between March 11 and 17 only 5 417 people were vaccinated as only senior government officials and frontline health workers were prioritised.
Reads the update in part: “During week 13, a total of 48 817 vaccines were administered, bringing the total vaccines administered to 160 445 since the official launch of vaccination on 11 March 2021. The low uptake of the vaccine this week is attributed to the Easter holidays.
The country has received a total of 512 000 doses of the vaccine.
“A third of the total available 512 000 doses have been used. Uptake of the vaccine has dropped in the third week due to the long Easter holidays. Vaccination is now open to all the eligible above the age of 18 years.”
Commenting on the scaling up of Covid-19 vaccine, Malawi Health Equity Network executive director George Jobe commended government for extending the vaccination exercise to all Malawians aged 18 and above.
He said: “As a nation we cannot manage to let some of the vaccines expire in our hands. This is a big opportunity considering other countries have not yet received the vaccines.”
Jobe has since asked government to continue engaging civil society organisations, religious bodies and local leaders to sensitise communities on the importance of taking the Covid-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, some health experts have expressed worry over the low vaccine uptake, fearing more doses may end up getting expired if people continue shunning them.
National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi president Shouts Simeza said the liberalised access to Covid-19 vaccine is partly to blame for the development.
He said: “The global liberalisation of the vaccine, which makes it voluntary and not mandatory is not helping. Despite disseminating messages, some people may have decided not to take it.
“Now that we have allowed all those above 18 to get the vaccine, we need to convince more people to get it.”
Simeza feared that the additional 1.26 million doses expected at the end of May from the Covax facility may be wasted if people continue shunning the vaccine.
“In four weeks, we are just over 160 000, that tells you the challenges we have. Let government make observations on the data to make decisions,” he added.
On his part, health rights activist Maziko Matemba said it is sad that some Malawians are avoiding the vaccine when people in other countries wish they had such an opportunity.
“It is worrying that to date, some health workers have not taken the jab,” he said.
Earlier, Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi president Dr Victor Mithi admitted that there are still some people in the country with misconceptions about the vaccine.
“We want to continue assuring Malawians that the vaccine is safe. Currently, we are able to monitor those that have received the vaccine, and we are telling them that once they feel anything abnormal beyond the usual post-vaccination symptoms, they can always come to the hospital and report,” he said.
Government received the first consignment of 360 doses from the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility in early March then received another batch of 50 000 doses from the Government of India. African Union later provided 102 000 doses, bringing the number of doses in the country to 512 000.
The Ministry of Health aims to immunise about 11 million people, representing 60 percent of the Malawi population.