Cape Town – At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa hurried to secure millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines as it aimed to cover at least 70% of the population. Now, millions of doses are at risk of being discarded, as their expiration date looms amid a low uptake.
Health Department spokesperson Foster Mohale said that out of 8.1 million Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine doses, 3.5million will expire at the end of December, while the rest will expire at the end of January next year, unless the manufacturer conducts a stability study and applies for an extension of shelf life, through the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
About 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are scheduled to expire next June and September.
“The challenge of vaccine hesitancy is happening globally and most countries across the world lost vaccines due to low uptake.
“Second, most countries are unable to accept donations because they know they may not have funds to compensate individuals who suffer serious adverse effects following immunisation. Others cite the issue of transportation and storage requirements of vaccines,” Mohale said.
He said the department had not yet lost any Covid-19 vaccine doses due to expiration, as the manufacturer had applied for shelf-life extension through SAHPRA following stability studies.
“We will cross the bridge when we arrive at the December expiry date, but there is background work by the manufacturer on this,” he said.
Mohale said the Covid-19 vaccine uptake remained very low in the country.
Once vaccine doses reach their expiration date, they are isolated and quarantined in cold storage, while being communicated to the manufacturer.
Pfizer vaccine doses were scheduled to expire towards the end of September and October but after stability study results and application to SAHPRA, the shelf-life was extended by three months provided the vaccines are kept in ultra-cold storage.
Western Cape health and wellness department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said none of the province’s bulk stock would be discarded as it was stored at -70ºC at the Cape Medical Depot.
Since January 1, 83 085 vaccines had been administered in the Western Cape.
As at September 18, the province reported 420 active cases of Covid-19 and 22 hospitalisations due to the virus.
Van der Heever said the number of new infections and hospitalisations remained very low.
“Vaccination remains a very important defence tool as we continue on our journey of recovery while living with Covid-19 in our midst.
“Vaccinations continue to be freely available at our vaccination sites and at our health facilities as we integrate the offering of Covid-19 vaccination within our health facilities.
“Members of the public are encouraged to take up vaccination, which will give them a layer of protection against becoming severely ill if they are infected by the virus.”