The Department of Health says it is exploring all options to avoid wasting as many vaccine doses as possible, as a result of expiration. Millions of COVID-19 vaccine vials which have not been used, risk being discarded.
The department says more than 92 000 unused Pfizer vaccine vials are due to expire on Thursday, 31 March 2022. By July, well over 10 million Pfizer doses will have reached their expiration date, unless they manage to inject them in as many arms as possible.
“All expiring stock is held in quarantine until the last day of expiry after which the existing protocol for the destruction of medical waste will be activated to ensure safe and environmentally responsible disposal. The current stock of Pfizer vaccine have the following expiry dates: 897 270 doses to expire in May, 5 845 800 to expire in June, while 4 831 560 are facing expiry by the end of July,” said department spokesperson Foster Mohale.
To date, more than 33 million vaccine doses have been administered, and no unused vaccines have been discarded at the central warehouses due to expiry – until now.
HOW WILL GOVERNMENT AVOID WASTING VACCINES?
The Department of Health says it is considering certain avenues, including exchange and donation through COVAX Facility, to mitigate the wastage of the doses. But even these measures may not entirely be feasible as not all countries use the same vaccines as those administered in the country. While other countries are also facing low uptake, which means they may end up going to waste anyway.
“The challenge of vaccine hesitancy is not only experienced in South Africa, but globally, hence several countries had to dispose of expired vaccines as well. Additionally, some countries that could potentially accept the vaccines do not have the necessary infrastructure to safely store these vaccines at the required ultra-cold chain temperature to prevent avoidable wastage”
Health Department spokesperson Foster Mohale