As the country yesterday burned 19 610 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, statistics from the Public Health Institute of Malawi (Phim) indicate a downward trend in uptake of the vaccine.
The statistics show that by end of April 2021, uptake of the vaccine was at 57.5 percent before dropping to 31.9 percent the following week.
While the vaccine uptake remained at 31.9 percent for two consecutive weeks, as of May 18 2021, it further dropped to 19.05 percent.
The statistics show that as of May 18 2021, a total of 334 363 people had been vaccinated in the country, translating to 1.86 percent of the country’s 18 million population.
Our analysis also shows that the number of people vaccinated against the 11 million targeted population stands at only three percent.
In burning the doses yesterday, Malawi became the first country to take the lead. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the African Centres for Disease Control (ACDC) had earlier issued a statement against disposing of the vaccine.
The burning of the doses followed their expiry on April 13. South Sudan is another country which has unused vaccines, currently at 59 000 and has also shown interest to burn them.
Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda yesterday said incineration of the vaccines, an exercise that took place at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, was done publicly to show transparency and bring confidence in the vaccination exercise.
“It has never been easy to assure people that this vaccine was good for use because there was a lot of propaganda even before we received it.
“Unfortunately, we could not absorb all the vaccines in the two weeks of shelf life. The Pharmacy and Medicines Regulatory Authority recommended that we destroy the vaccines; hence, this event today,” she said.
The minister also alluded to the fact that two weeks after the launch of the vaccination campaign on March 11, there was a decline in people availing themselves for the exercise, a situation that led to expiry of the vaccines.
In an earlier interview, public health expert Dr Titus Divala said one of the contributing factors to the vaccine uptake decline is lack of public information on side effects, in addition to frequent suspensions of the vaccination programmes.
“The vaccine clearly prevents severe disease and death and we have before us the opportunity to save lives but at the moment, this message is very faint in favour of the headline capturing yet extremely rare side effects,” he said.
Divala said if such a low turnout continues even in the second phase of the vaccine administration, people will fail to protect the country from effects of the pandemic once it strikes again.
In an earlier interview with The Nation, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dr Charles Mwansambo also acknowledged the decline in number of people taking the vaccine, further attributing it to the expiry of the doses.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango asked for more time before responding while Mwansambo did not pick our calls. He was also yet to respond to our questionnaire by press time.
As of May 18, 1 153 deaths were recorded in the country with the overall case-fatality ratio at 3.4 percent.
The Ministry of Health is targeting to immunise 11 million people, representing 60 percent of the country’s critical population.
Malawi received the first consignment of 360 000 doses from the Covax facility, 50 000 doses from India and 102 000 doses from the African Union, bringing the total number of doses in the country to 512 000.