Up to one million COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria last month without being used, two sources told Reuters, one of the biggest single losses of doses that shows the difficulty African nations have getting shots in arms.
Governments on the continent of over one billion people have been pushing for more vaccine deliveries as inoculation rates lag richer regions, increasing the risk of new variants such as the Omicron coronavirus now spreading across South Africa.
A recent surge in supply has caused a new problem, however: many African countries are finding they do not have the capacity to manage the shots, some of which come with a short shelf life.
The expired doses were made by AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and delivered from Europe, the sources with direct knowledge of vaccine delivery and use told Reuters. They were supplied via COVAX, the dose-sharing facility led by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO which is increasingly reliant on donations.
A third source with knowledge of the delivery said some of the doses arrived within four-to-six weeks of expiry and could not be used in time, despite efforts by health authorities.
“Nigeria is doing everything it can. But it’s struggling with short shelf life vaccines,” one told Reuters. “Now (supply is) unpredictable and they’re sending too much.”
A spokesperson for the National Primary Health Care Development Agency – the body responsible for vaccinations in Nigeria – said the number of vaccines received and used is still being tallied and it would share its findings in the coming days.
The WHO said doses had expired, but declined to give a figure. It said 800,000 additional doses that had been at risk of expiry in October were all used in time.
“Vaccine wastage is to be expected in any immunization programme, and in the context of COVID-19 deployment is a global phenomenon,” the WHO said in a statement responding to Reuters’ questions. It said vaccines delivered with “very short” shelf lives were a problem.
Nigeria’s vaccine loss appears to be one of the largest of its kind over such a short time period, even outstripping the total number of vaccines that some other countries in the region have received.
It is not alone in wasting vaccines, however.
Across Europe, countries including Germany and Switzerland have struggled to maximise the use of doses. In January, officials in Britain forecast wastage of about 10% of vaccines. In April, France’s health minister told local media that 25% of AstraZeneca, 20% of Moderna (MRNA.O) and 7% of Pfizer (PFE.N) vaccines were being wasted at the time.