WHO is urging African nations not to destroy expired Covid-19 vaccines because they are still safe for use. This report comes shortly after thousands of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines received by Malawi are said to expire few weeks after their arrival. According to Malawi officials, 16,440 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated to the country in March by the AU expired on the 13th of April. Despite pleas from WHO, the Malawi government has made it clear that they are going forward with the decision to destroy the expired vaccines. Malawi’s secretary of health, Dr. Charles Mwansambo said,
“It’s also a requirement that every vial has an expiry date beyond which it cannot be used. In this case, we cannot proceed to use these because the vial clearly states the expiry date. And any doctor, any physician would not be forgiven in the event of anything happening after knowingly using a vial that is clearly expired.”
Authorities in Malawi responded to the WHO’s directive stating that it is coming too late. Since the expired COVID-19 vaccines have already been removed from cold storage. South Sudan authorities are facing a similar problem. Over 60,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have expired just three weeks after the vaccines arrived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Dr. Richard Lako who’s in charge of COVID-19 operations in South Sudan said,
“We later discovered the lifespan of this vaccine is just remaining 14 days. Immediately we started engaging because if we start them, we may not be able to finish. So, the ministry is now engaging the AU and the team with regards to that effect.”
According to the WHO, the vaccines are still safe to use. Dr. Guyo Argata Guracha is leading the WHO emergency in South Sudan. He said in a press briefing that the expiry dates of the vaccines are different from their shelf life. He said,
“From the WHO’s point of view, these are new vaccines. The shelf life of this vaccine is six months from now. We cannot say it is really expired, but we can talk of the shelf life which is six months”.
The WHO says on its website that Astrazeneca has a shelf life of six months. Perhaps, their view is influenced by the limited supply of the vaccine. In other words, they want more people to get vaccinated at all costs. Regardless, the question of safety still lingers. Sadly, the WHO’s view may further anger people who were already skeptical about taking the vaccine.
What Does Science Say?
Generally, using expired drugs of any kind is often prohibited. In this case, the WHO is trying to point out that the expiry date doesn’t mean unfit for use. Let’s not forget that the COVID-19 vaccines are relatively new and there is not much information about them. It is difficult to ascertain what will happen if an expired dose is administered.
A Cleveland publication provides an easy-to-understand explanation of expiry dates and shelf life. Within the stipulated expiry date, the efficacy of a drug is guaranteed by its manufacturer. This is no longer the case once the drug expires. However, the drug or pharmaceutical product could still be used as long as it’s still within its shelf life. But its potency isn’t guaranteed. In a medical publication, “Can Medication Become Harmful After The Expiration Date?”, the authors said,
“…typical efficacy cannot be expected or guaranteed after a product’s expiration date”.
Thus, the expired COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective as they should be. This could create the illusion of false protection and further fuel the spread of the virus. Also, it could lead to severe side effects including complications. Is this a risk worth taking?
Implications of WHO’s Directive on the Use of Expired COVID-19 Vaccines
Fear, distrust, and conspiracies, are just a few of the negative impacts trailing the WHO’s directive. Many people have taken to social media to express their frustrations. Some say the WHO intends to use Africans as “Guinea pigs” for experimenting with the vaccines. The reasoning behind this isn’t far-fetched. There hasn’t been any report stating that expired COVID-19 vaccines were administered to citizens of developed countries like the United States and the UK.
Malawi got expired COVID-19 Vaccines but WHO and Africa CDC says the Vaccines are still okay for use. But the government of Malawi has plans to go ahead and destroy the Vaccines as they are past expiry date. I am confused. Why would they be requested to use expired Vaccines?
— BRAVIN YURI (@BravinYuri) April 26, 2021
@WHO AFRICA is not the hub of guinea pigs,
Malawi rejects WHO call to use expired COVID vaccine
Malawi’s government says it will go ahead with plans to destroy thousands of expired COVID-19 vaccine doses, despite calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) and ACDC
— James Joes (@JamesJoes254) April 27, 2021
Many people believe that sending these expired COVID-19 vaccines to Africa is intentional. As a Twitter user pointed out, the drugs expired really fast which begs the question “When was it manufactured”? Considering these, it is only natural that the number of people willing to take the vaccine will drop drastically.
“Many vaccines can be used up to 36 months after manufacture, but because Covid-19 jabs are so new there is not enough data to prove their effectiveness over longer periods.”
Yet, African Regulators are dumb over the expired jabs. #Africansnotguineapigs #Nigeriansnotguineapigs
— Sylvester Ebhodaghe (@Sylvester2006) April 30, 2021
After many years of conditioning the mind against the use of expired medication. The WHO’s directive is a sudden U-turn and it is only natural that such a decision is met with resistance. It will likely cause more harm than good because most people are becoming skeptical.
Also, with so many questions left unanswered, conspiracy theories are bound to gain momentum. The big question now is, should African leaders heed the WHO’s directive and use the vaccines, or should the expired COVID-19 vaccines be destroyed? Kindly drop your thoughts in the comment box below.