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Health ministry asked to redistribute Covid-19 vaccines to districts with high uptake

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | District Health Officers want the Ministry of Health to recall some of their least demanded COVID-19 vaccines to avoid cases of expired jabs. The call was made during the two-day Health Sector Joint Review Mission that took place in Kampala.

According to DHOs from the districts of Luwero and Buikwe, some of the vaccines that were sent have a short shelf life and become unusable after four weeks, once they have been opened and reconstituted. Information by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicates that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines both can last up to six months if they’re stored properly.

The Pfizer vaccines however require ultra-cold storage – approximately -158 degrees Fahrenheit – to last that long. Before mixing, the Pfizer vaccine may be stored in a regular freezer, between -13 degrees Fahrenheit to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, for up to two weeks. It can only be stored for five days at regular refrigeration temperatures according to CDC guidance.

But the CDC says that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines take a few hours to thaw and must be administered quickly once they are no longer being refrigerated. The Pfizer vaccine is only stable for six hours at room temperature while a punctured Moderna vaccine vial is viable for up to 12 hours.

It is on the basis of this that DHO’s want the health ministry to recall the vaccines and send them to places that need them the most to avoid wastage. Luwero District Health Officer Dr Innocent Nkonwa says his district has over 150,000 doses of vaccines that cannot be used by their expiry date.

But Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director-general of health services rejected the call for redistribution. He argues that the districts are on average given 30,000 doses of vaccines which are too few to be redistributed. He says instead of complaining, DHOs should organise campaigns to increase the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr Annet Kisakye, the immunization focal person at the World Health Organisation office in Kampala intimated that the expiry of donated vaccines might affect future donations. The majority of Uganda’s vaccines have been donated by international partners through bilateral agreements and COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“Vaccines coming in from donors are dependent on consumption. The more you consume, the more you are likely to get,” she said.

To date, Uganda has received over 10 million doses of vaccines but records from the health ministry show that only 4.8 million doses have been administered.

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