Poor countries refused to take about 100 million donated COVID-19 vaccine doses last month alone, chiefly due to their short shelf life, the UN said on Thursday.
The WHO has slammed the deadly “moral shame” of high-income countries hogging vaccine supplies then offloading near-expiry doses to jab-starved poorer nations.
Stark images last month of Nigeria disposing of more than a million AstraZeneca doses that had gone off highlighted the issue.
UNICEF uses its vaccine logistics expertise to handle delivery flights for COVAX, the global scheme set up to ensure a flow of doses to poorer nations.
Last month, “we had almost more than 100 million doses that have been refused because of countries’ capacities,” UNICEF’s supply division director Etleva Kadilli told a European Parliament committee.
“The majority of refusals are due to product shelf life,” she added.
“The short shelf life is really creating a major bottleneck for countries to plan their vaccination campaigns,” she said. “Until we have a better shelf life, this is going to be a pressure point for the countries, specifically when countries want to reach populations in hard-to-reach areas.”
EU donations account for one-third of the doses delivered so far via COVAX, she said.
In October to November, 15 million EU-donated doses were rejected — 75 percent of them AstraZeneca shots with a shelf life of less than 10 weeks upon arrival.
Several nations were requesting for deliveries to be put off until after March, when they might be better able to handle the pressure on the cold storage chain, she said.
Many countries “come back and request split shipments — they want to push doses towards the next quarter,” she said.
“And I’m talking here also for large, big countries where naturally you’d think that they do have the capacity,” she added.
Worldwide, more than 8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered so far in at least 219 territories, an Agence France-Presse count showed.
About 149 doses per 100 people have been injected in high-income countries — and fewer than nine per 100 in the lowest-income nations.
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