Covid vaccines at risk of expiry due to low uptake

Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache gets her Covid-19 booster during the launch of Accelerated Covid-19 Vaccination in Nairobi County at Kibera Level 3 Hospital on June 2, 2022 by the Ministry of Health.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu I Nation Media Group

Coronavirus vaccines were touted as a biomedical triumph. They were safe, efficacious and free and dramatically reduced serious illness and death, one of the great biomedical achievements of all time.

Using a mathematical model, a study published June 23 in the Lancet, shows that the vaccines saved 19.8 million lives in the first year of vaccination, starting Dec 8, 2020, in 185 countries and territories sampled.

This is based on a broad definition of pandemic suffering, the estimated excess death toll, and amounts to averting an astounding 63 per cent of all deaths — in other words, cutting the loss by more than half.

If the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global target of a vaccination rate of 40 percent of all populations by the end of 2021 had been met, it would have averted nearly 600,000 additional deaths, the study says.

Vaccination has been the cornerstone of current strategies to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic, through reductions in transmission, illness, and death.

But the vaccines’ success has been tempered by the refusal of millions to accept the shots largely due to the proliferation of misinformation, that has ended up sparking hesitancy.

According to a number of studies, while supply is no longer the problem, Covid-19 vaccine uptake among the eligible population has slowed down due to hesitancy and apathy. 

Intake of the jab

Currently, anyone over the age of 15 is eligible to receive an authorised vaccine, with Pfizer being reserved for teenagers.

The downtrend in the intake of the jab in recent months has led to fears that thousands of the doses could go to waste.

As a result, countries and even vaccine manufacturers have been forced to destroy hundreds of thousands of expired and unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

In Europe, Switzerland is among the first countries that announced plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of vaccines that have reached their expiration date.

In May 2022, Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the company was in the process of throwing 30 million doses in the garbage due to lack of demand.

 “We have a big demand problem.”

In Kenya, Dr Willis Akhwale-chair of the national Covid-19 vaccines task-force said the country has until October to consume its stock of close to 3.5million doses before the jabs expire.

Daily vaccination

With a current daily vaccination of about 5,500 people daily, the country will have to look for alternative ways of motivating the public to take up the doses before they expire.

In March, the Ministry of Health was compelled to destroy 840,000 Astrazeneca vaccine doses following their expiry.

The latest coronavirus figures from the Ministry of Health indicate that so far, the country has administered 18,982,295 vaccine doses, as it leaps to reach its target of vaccinating 27 million adults and 5.8 million teenagers by the end of the year.

With the rate of infection (5.4 percent positivity rate) fluctuating, fewer people are motivated to get the jab even as a new version of omicron subvariant known as BA.5 becomes dominant, according to the WHO.

Utilisation of the jab was initially driven by fears of contracting the highly contagious Omicron variant and a government vaccine mandate but interest has significantly fallen.