Every minute is precious for Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda who has pressed the panic button for the speedy delivery of 900 000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to satisfy growing demand, largely for the second jab.
In an interview last evening against a background of hundreds being turned away from vaccination centres due to a stockout, the minister said the Malawi Government is hopeful that the Covax Facility, a multi-donor initiative, will deliver about 900 000 doses by end of this month.
She said Malawi has also engaged bilateral partners to help the country as current stocks are fast running out.
“We were promised by Covax that we would get 900 000 doses in May, but because of the situation in India, production of vaccines got affected. But we have been assured that we will get the doses this month, June,” Chiponda said.
In Blantyre, district director of health and social services Gift Kawalazira said that 2 000 doses were dispensed by 1pm yesterday and that people were being turned away.
He said the doses were sourced from Mangochi and Phalombe where uptake is low. He added that Blantyre was initially allocated 5 000 doses which were already exhausted.
“We will keep scavenging on whatever we can get from other districts like Mulanje, Neno, Mwanza and Chikwawa. It is important that we finish the doses before they expire like last time,” Kawalazira said.
In Lilongwe, district director of health and social services Alinafe Mbewe also confirmed the overwhelming response, saying that like in Blantyre, they are also getting doses from other districts, including Mangochi.
She said: “The demand is high, but stocks are low. In some places, people go and find that the vaccine is finished or stocks are low, but the demand is very high.
“During the first dose, we vaccinated 80 000 people and we expect the same this time. For now, we just depend on how many doses are available on a particular day and those are shared.”
Mzimba North District Health Office spokesperson Lovemore Kawayi said they are still using the 3 380 doses they were provided two weeks ago, but said that many more people were now queuing for the jab.
By Tuesday, 387 363 doses had been administered out of the 512 000 doses the country received. This means that minus the expired 19 000 doses that were destroyed last month, the country is remaining with 105 637 doses.
Reacting to the situation yesterday, Society of Medical Doctors president Victor Mithi said it was unfortunate that the expected batch of vaccines has not arrived on time. However, he said the situation was understandable as it was a worldwide unforeseen event.
Sounding optimistic, he said: “We believe that nothing is constant so we believe we will overcome this since a new set of the vaccines is expected to arrive.”
In earlier interviews last week, Mithi and Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Charles Mwansambo expressed fears over the uncertainty of the arrival of the new doses of the vaccine.
While the uncertainty on vaccines continues, the country has continued to register rising imported cases, local transmissions, admissions and higher positivity rate.
Between June 7 and 14, a cumulative 174 cases, including 78 imported cases, were recorded. In the previous reporting week, 17 imported cases were registered. On the other hand, the 96 locally transmitted cases represented double the previous week’s 48.
Meanwhile, amid the rising imported cases, government has admitted challenges to trace some of the cases as some returnees provide wrong details about their destinations. This, epidemiologists have warned, poses greater risk for the spread of the pandemic.
Last week, Ministry of Health asked the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services to restrict entrythrough the country’s borders to only returning residents and those on essential travels as a precautionary measure against Covid-19.
In a letter dated June 12 2021, Mwansambo said those who do not fit into these categories must be refused entry into Malawi.