FMoH Concedes, Says ‘Some COVID-19 Vaccines Have Short Shelf Lives’

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The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.

Following outcry from Nigerian over the news making the rounds that the Federal Ministry of Health may be trying to dispose of vaccines donated to the nation but were left to ‘expire’ in storage, the ministry has released a statement conceding that some vaccines expired while in storage.

A ministry by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made available to the media today, December 8, 2021, said some of the drugs already had short lives-spans by the time they arrived the shores of the country from the donor.

“Nigeria has, of late, enjoyed the generosity of several, mainly European countries, who have offered us doses of Covid-19 vaccines out of their stockpiles, free of charge, through COVAX or AVAT facility. These donations are always acknowledged and thankfully received: however, some of them had residual shelf lives of only a few months that left us very short time – some just weeks – to use them, after deduction of time to transport, clear, distribute and deliver to users. If such vaccines arrive back-to-back or are many, logistic bottlenecks occasionally arise,” Ehanire explained. 

He clarified that, although Nigeria appreciates the gestures, the challenge has been communicated back to the donors, there were steps which could not be taken to restore them, because the Federal Government did not feel they were safe.

“Some manufacturers offered to extend the vaccines’ shelf-life after the fact, by 3 months, a practice that, though accepted by experts, is declined by the Federal Ministry of Health, because it is not accommodated in our standards. Nigeria does not dispense vaccines with a validity extended beyond the labelled expiry date. We continue to adhere to our rigorous standards.”

Ehanire said the challenge was not new and is experience by many nationals globally.

“Donation of surplus COVID-19 vaccines with expiring shelf-lives to developing countries has been a matter of international discussion. 

“Developing countries like Nigeria accept them because they close our critical vaccine supply gaps and, being free, save us scarce foreign exchange procurement costs. This dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low- and medium-income countries find themselves.

“Donors also recognize a need to give away unused vaccines, before they expire in their own stock, but they need to begin the process early enough and create a well-oiled pathway for prompt shipment and distribution through the COVAX and AVAT facilities, to reduce risk of expiration. With better coordination, vaccines need not expire in the stock of Donors or Recipients.

“Nigeria has utilised most of the over 10m short-shelf-life doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far supplied to us, in good time, and saved N16.4B or more than $40m in foreign exchange. The vaccines that expired had been withdrawn before then and will be destroyed accordingly by NAFDAC,” he explained. 

Ehanire said the ministry would no longer accept vaccines with short shelf-lives or those which would take some time to be delivered.

“The long-term measure to prevent such incidents is for Nigeria to produce its vaccines, so that vaccines produced have, at least, 12 months to expiration. This is why the Federal Ministry of Health is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity. This is a goal we are pursuing with dedication,” he said.

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