Millions of unused, expired Covid-19 vaccines destroyed

In Singapore, about 10 per cent of its Covid-19 vaccine stock had hit their expiry dates, the Ministry of Health said in Oct, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The authorities in many countries have destroyed unused Covid-19 vaccine stocks that have expired, or were planning to do so soon, according to regional media reports.

In some cases, the exact volumes that remained in warehouses, or were already disposed, were not made public as the vaccines imported came with manufacturer obligations to keep volumes and their unit prices secret.

In most countries, the vaccines were imported by their respective health ministries.

In Malaysia, the government had directly imported some vaccines, but it also allowed government-linked company Pharmaniaga the exclusive right to buy directly Sinovac doses. These 14 million doses of unused vaccines, costing RM552 million (S$166 million), have pulled down Pharmaniaga finances.

In Singapore, about 10 per cent of its Covid-19 vaccine stock had hit their expiry dates, the Ministry of Health said in October 2022, in response to media queries on vaccine wastage.

The ministry said that as updated vaccines with greater efficacy are rolled out, older vaccine stocks that were purchased will not be completely utilitised. 

The ministry said at that time that it had taken steps to minimise wastage, such as by swopping with or donating vaccine stocks to countries that had a greater need for them, and by working with vaccine manufacturers to extend the shelf life of stocks.

In the Philippines, the total Covid-19 vaccine wastage has been estimated to hit over 50 million by the end of March, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Thursday, as quoted by ABS-CBN News.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire told a Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing that around 44 million doses have been destroyed.

In Indonesia, Deputy Minister of Health Dante Saksono Harbuwono in October 2022 said 40.2 million doses of expired vaccines were to be got rid of immediately, Antara news agency reported. He said most of the expired doses were those donated by other countries and had a short expiry date.

In Japan, the central government had received its orders for Covid-19 vaccines from manufacturers such as Pfizer and Moderna, and then distributed them to the 47 prefectural authorities but with little oversight over stockpiles. 

Moderna, for example, delivered 143 million doses of vaccines for the original Covid-19 strain to Japan under an October 2020 contract. Of these, 96.9 million have been distributed to the prefectures and the 46.1 million held by the national government have been discarded on expiry and following its new policy from February to roll out Omicron-specific vaccines.

In Vietnam, 257,549 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in Ho Chi Minh City have expired – or about 1.15 per cent of the total received between March 8 and Feb 27 – the municipal health department said.

South Korea, meanwhile, has so far discarded 12.9 million doses of expired vaccine and donated 10.2 million doses to other countries. 

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency told The Straits Times it has a stockpile of 42.6 million doses in distribution centres, set to expire between April and September this year.

“Vaccines are being used continuously for basic vaccination and additional shots during winter,” the KDCA said. “For unused vaccines, we work with related ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote overseas donation. But disposal is inevitable if the expiry date has passed.” 

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