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Covid vaccine awaits Malawi’s readiness

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The availability of Covid-19 vaccine in the country, under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, depends on how soon the country finalises detailed logistical plans and tools for the effective transportation, storage and continuous temperature monitoring of the vaccine.

At the moment, the Ministry of Health is checking the country’s cold chain capacity and also working on distribution logistics because the Covax Facility is not in a position to fund local distribution and storage costs, Principal Secretary for Health Charles Mwansambo has disclosed.

Malawi applied for the Covid-19 vaccine with other African countries as one way of containing the coronavirus. However, importation of the vaccine into the country would depend on the country’s preparedness to manage the immunisation exercise.

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Among other challenges, the Covid-19 vaccine is supposed to be stored in cold to ultra-cold conditions but Mwansambo allayed fears that intermittent power supply could pose a challenge to Malawi’s preparedness for the vaccine.

He said there were other types of vaccines that could be kept under conditions favourable to Malawi.

He said the country had not made a final decision on which vaccine to pick among the Moderna Vaccine, Pfizer and Astrazeneca, all of which are available under the Covax Facility.

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“The Astrazeneca one is coming up more often because it can be stored in a condition of two to eight degrees. The other two are supposed to be kept at below zero, which we cannot afford. This does not mean that this is an inferior vaccine; no, but it is the likely one for us because it can be stored in conditions we can manage.

“Through the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, we have fridges across the country. Some of these fridges use gas or paraffin, especially where there is no electricity. Through the programme, we are assessing our cold chain capacity to see how many vaccines we can hold and make improvements accordingly. After everything is done, we will inform the funders, Covax Facility, so that they have an idea of how we are going to handle the vaccine,” he said.

Mwansambo said, after applying and being approved to benefit from the facility, the next thing is for the country to have a plan on how the vaccine would be distributed, including coming up with priority groups, among other things.

Covax is a consortium of organisations that are trying to help poor countries, 92 in total, get the vaccine which they could, otherwise, not be able to get at this early stage.

The Astrazeneca vaccine was developed by Oxford University in the United Kingdom (UK) and has already been rolled out in Brazil, UK and other countries, while the Pfizer vaccine is manufactured by Pfizer and BionNTech. It been approved and rolled out in China, the United States (US) and Israel, among other countries.

On the other hand, Moderna vaccine is being manufactured by ModernaTX and is already being distributed in Spain and the US, among other countries.

Malawi signed an Indemnity Agreement with manufacturers of the vaccines through Covax Facility.

Meanwhile, the country’s technical committee on vaccines under the banner of Malawi Immunisation Technical Advisory Group has backed the vaccines available, saying their benefits by far outweigh the possible costs.

Chairperson of the group, MacPherson Mallewa from College of Medicine, has also backed the government’s decision to sign agreements.

“That was one of the conditions from the manufacturers and it is being done elsewhere. We, as a committee, looked at the vaccines and said they were safe. If the manufacturers demanded the indemnity agreement, then we had no choice as a country because, otherwise, we would not have the vaccine,” he said.

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