What you need to know:
- The most widely used Covid-19 vaccines if properly stored, can last up to six months from the time of manufacture.
- If expired, vaccines are not administered and, hence, considered a medical waste to be safely disposed of.
No doubt, Covid-19 vaccines have mitigated the effects of the pandemic by greatly reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death. At least a dozen types have been developed and authorised for use. Many more are in different stages of development or awaiting approval.
As with other medicinal products, vaccines come with a date of expiry and shelf-life determined by the manufacturers. The most widely used Covid-19 vaccines — AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer — if properly stored, can last up to six months from the time of manufacture. If expired, vaccines are not administered and, hence, considered a medical waste to be safely disposed of.
As the pandemic rages amid limited vaccine supply, it is crucially important to ensure all Covid-19 vaccines are fully utilised to save lives before their expiry date. The government targets to vaccinate 10 million of the adult population this year.
As of now, 3.8 per cent of the population, or 2.03 million people, have been fully vaccinated. But it is far less likely that the target will be achieved as there is a glaring case of low uptake of vaccines driven by hesitancy and lack of urgency among the unvaccinated.
The reduced uptake of vaccines is a serious cause for concern that should give the government and everyone who has been vaccinated sleepless nights. First, failure to get a shot in the arm means the available doses will not be utilised. If the slow uptake persists, the vaccines will expire and be of no use. With demand for vaccines far outweighing supply, wasting the lifesaving vaccines is regrettable.
Secondly, and equally important, failure to get vaccinated will create a susceptible population for the virus to establish infections. As long as the virus is in circulation, the risk of mutating to deadlier variants cannot be ruled out. The deadly variants could be insensitive to the action of vaccines, rendering them inefficient and wiping out all the impressive gains in the fight against the pandemic.
The lifting of the dusk-to-dawn curfew by the President last month, following steady reduction of new infections, should have seen an increase in the uptake of vaccines to safeguard the gains. It has, however, not helped matters. If anything, it has given people a false hope that the pandemic has been contained, thereby reducing their urgency and willingness to be vaccinated, let alone adhering to public health recommendations for safety.
It is of utmost importance to realise that, for sustainable economic recovery after the ravages of the pandemic, widespread vaccination is of essence. There is a need to keep track of vaccine consumption rates and address vaccine hesitancy by redefining vaccine messaging strategies to promote uptake of the drugs before expiry. If shortage of vaccines was the reason for the low uptake, that should not be an excuse anymore as the life-saving vaccines are now readily available.
Dr Kerima is a biochemist. [email protected] @KerimaZablon