Nigeria has destroyed more than a million doses of expired AstraZeneca vaccines in a bid to assure a wary public that they have been taken out of circulation.
The destruction came on Wednesday, more than a week after health authorities said some COVID-19 doses donated by rich Western nations had a shelf life that left only weeks to administer the jabs.
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The Reuters news agency reported on December 7 that about one million COVID-19 vaccines were estimated to have expired in Nigeria in November without being used.
At a dumpsite in Abuja, a bulldozer crushed AstraZeneca shots that were packed in cardboard boxes and plastic as reporters and health officials watched.
Al Jazeera’s Fidelis Mbah, reporting from Abuja, said the delivery of the vaccines has been accompanied by conspiracy theories via social media and word of mouth.
“So the government has been making a very conscious effort to make sure that Nigerians are reassured that these vaccines are very effective. This is why they decided to make a public show of the destruction of the expired jabs,” he said.
Faisal Shuaib, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency executive director told reporters that a shortage of vaccine supplies on the continent had forced Nigeria to take the doses, knowing full well they had a short shelf life.
“We have successfully withdrawn 1,066,214 doses of expired AstraZeneca vaccines. We have kept our promise to be transparent to Nigerians. The destruction today is an opportunity for Nigerians to have faith in our vaccination programme,” Shuaib said.
Governments on the continent of more than one billion people have been pushing for more vaccine deliveries as inoculation rates lag richer regions.
The lower vaccination levels raise the risk of higher infection and death rates from COVID-19, especially as new, fast-spreading variants emerge such as Omicron.
Health Minister Osagie Ehanire has said Nigeria will no longer accept vaccines with a short shelf life, citing a presidential committee decision.
The World Health Organisation said 12,971,729 vaccine doses have been administered in Nigeria as of December 19.
Africa’s most populous country, with a population exceeding 200 million, has recorded 227,378 COVID-19 cases and 2,989 deaths since the pandemic started.
Health experts have said Nigeria needs to triple its vaccination drive from about 100,000 doses a day to meet its target to inoculate more than half its population by the end of next year.
Recently, like many other African countries, Nigeria has seen a surge in vaccine supply, which has highlighted other issues relating to distribution and hesitation by citizens to get inoculated.