Lilongwe — Malawi has burned nearly 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after slow uptake led to their expiration. Malawi authorities are struggling to administer more doses set to expire in June and are training heath workers to visit and inoculate people in villages.
The public incineration of the vaccine Wednesday in the capital was held in front of officials from the Treasury, anti-corruption bureau, the auditor general's office and health rights activists.
Speaking during the event at Kamuzu Central Hospital, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo-Chiponda said the destruction was aimed to build public confidence in the safety of the vaccination program.
"It has been very difficult to convince Malawians about the vaccine initially because of misinformation, disinformation and negative propaganda. So, we just wanted to assure Malawians that indeed what we had said that we are going to destroy them, it is happening now," she said.
Kandodo-Chiponda said the move is also in line with government policy, which prohibits the use of any expired health commodities.
The expired vaccines were part of 102,000 vaccines Malawi received from the African Union on March 26 with an expiration date of April 13.
The health secretary, Dr. Charles Mwansambo, said despite the slow uptake of the vaccine, the expiration was also because of the vaccine's short shelf life by the time the government received the donation.
He said although remaining doses are expected to expire in June and July, the government will see to it that the vaccines do not expire again.
"We have a policy where we say, 'First expiry, first out.' So, for those vaccines expiring [at the] end of June, they are the ones that we use first. And the ones [at the] end of July, we will use them later, so we don't see this happening again," he said.
He said to increase vaccine uptake, the government has trained additional health workers to reach out to communities normally unable to access medical facilities that are providing vaccines.
In addition, he said, the government has increased the number of vaccination centers across the country.
George Jobe, the executive director for the Health Equity Network, says low vaccine uptake is more prevalent in rural areas where myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 are prevalent.
"In the cities, we saw huge numbers of people queuing [up] to be vaccinated," he said. "But in the communities, we need to do more sensitization responding and clarifying on the misconceptions."
Minister of Health Chiponda says Malawi is expected to receive about 900,000 additional doses of AstraZeneca vaccines under COVAX facility in June.