Malawi Covid-19 vaccine disaster! ‘dumping ground’ remarks backfire

Malawi has no more vaccines barely three weeks after it rolled out the second phase of a “massive” vaccination exercise on June 3; and, the development has since affected thousands who are yet to receive their second AstraZeneca dose.

Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda signs certificate of destruction of expired covid-19 vaccines. Pic by-Okhifi Dimba_2

Dr Victor Mithi, president of the Society of Medical Doctors (SMD) had expressed concern, two weeks ago, that that delay in the arrival of AstraZeneca consignments – by end May – from Covax would hamper the administration of the second dose but the Ministry of Health (MoH) had brushed aside the caution.

MoH spokesman, Joshua Malango, assured the country that there were “adequate quantities” and that there was “no need for alarm.”

Dr Alinafe Tambala announces no vaccines in Lilongwe

Apparently, it seems, there have not been enough quantities at all.

On Friday, the country’s major cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe, through their district health offices, went flat-out announcing they had run out of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Gift Kawalazira said, in a statement, Blantyre had run out of the Covid-19 vaccine as of 17th June, 2021.

“Blantyre District Health Office regrets for any inconvenience the stock out may have caused,” Dr Kawalazira said.

On her part, Lilongwe district director of health and social services, Dr Alinafe Mbewe Tambala, advised “all those that did not manage to get the second dose at 12 weeks that they will get their vaccine later.”

She advised: “The vaccine is still effective even when the second dose is given after 12 weeks. There will be no need to repeat the first dose.”

Minister of Health, Khumbize Kandodo-Chiponda, also confirmed the run out on Friday assuring the citizenry that the problem would be sorted out soon.

Earlier, MoH spokesman Malango had blamed the shortage of the AstraZeneca vaccines on India’s discontinuation of manufacturing the same.

But a horde of Malawians are blaming the government for lack of foresight, saying the country’s unfortunate predicament is self-made.

One of them, a social commentator, Martin Nkasala, said on Friday that the country had goofed in destroying Covid-19 doses in April, despite calls from the the World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Centre for Disease Control not to destroy them.

The WHO and Africa CDC had urged African countries not to destroy COVID-19 vaccines that may have passed their expiration dates, saying they were still safe to use.

However, Malawi’s government said the appeals had come too late to prevent the destruction of thousands of doses of expired COVID vaccines.

Said Nkasala: “We spat our donors of the AstraZeneca doses in the face through the interview President Lazarus Chakwera granted to CNN. We certainly put ourselves in a very tricky situation. How will we approach them [donors] again when we had failed to swallow our pride to follow their advice not burn the doses despite being advised not to?”

Nkasala added that much as he agreed with the idea of not using them, the response from Chakwera in the CNN interview was very undiplomatic.

“The ‘dumpers’ heard him and heard him very well. And, I am sure they also added their own understanding. I am waiting to see how our government will plead with the donors [read ‘dumpers’],” said Nkasala.

During the interview, Chakwera had said his government did not want people to start thinking that Malawi was a “dumping ground in as much as we understand that it would [still be safe] several months after expiry.”

Asked on whether or not he was discrediting WHO’s advice Chakwera said: “The WHO has been saying a lot of things that have not been accepted anywhere.”

Malawi first received a batch of 360,000 doses of Covid vaccine early March under the Covax programme. A few weeks later, Malawi received other allotments of 50,000 doses from India and 102,000 doses from the African Union (AU).

Out of the 102,000 doses from AU, 16, 440 doses of the vaccine expired and were destroyed.

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