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Covid vaccine crisis looms

Malawi running out of vaccine

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Joshua Malango

Malawi is facing a Covid vaccine crisis as it is only remaining with about 47,000 doses of Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, The Daily Times has established.

To make matters worse, the Ministry of Health has indicated that the next consignment of the vaccine would only be in the country next month.

People in different parts of the country, especially those in the urban areas of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, are hopping from one vaccination centre to another looking for the vaccine, which is being recalled from rural areas where uptake is low.

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Long queues have, in the past two days, been observed in clinics in the cities before people are turned back because the clinics have run out of Covid vaccines.

The Daily Times’ visits to some Covid vaccination points in Mzuzu, Blantyre and Lilongwe Tuesday revealed that, by noon, most of them had run out of Covid vaccines.

At Blantyre District Health Office and Gateway Health Centre, vaccines ran out by noon on Monday, with the situation repeating itself yesterday.

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Scores of people that turned up during the afternoon were told to go back today.

In Lilongwe, Covid vaccination centres were persistently running out of the vaccine since the announcement of the second vaccination exercise was made.

On Monday and Tuesday, hundreds of people—both youths and old— formed long lines at Area 18 Health Centre to get a jab but most of them were sent back or told to go to other health centres because the vaccine was not available.

Fortunately, Chitedze Clinic in Lilongwe has vaccine supplies and people have been flocking there to get inoculated.

In Mzuzu, turn up was high in the morning but experts have decried that people in rural areas were shunning the Covid jab because they are yet to access messages on the pandemic.

Community Health Ambassador Maziko Matemba feared that the government may end up destroying expired Covid vaccines again, saying, during the first phase of vaccine administration, some vaccines were destroyed because “the majority of people living in rural areas did not get the jab as they lacked knowledge on benefits of doing so”.

Since the start of the administration of the Covid vaccine in Malawi, the country has received 360,000 doses through Covid Vaccine Access Facility (Covax) facility, 102,000 doses from the African Union while 50,000 doses came from Indian government.

Data mined from Ministry of Health daily Covid updates indicate that, as of June 15, at least 464, 212 doses were used, meaning that the country only has 47,788 doses left.

In an interview, Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango admitted that the country was, indeed, running out of Covid vaccines, indicating that the situation in India had affected delivery of the next consignment.

“We, as a country, are running low on supplies. This is so because we expected to add close to 900,000 doses under Covax— an initiative launched by the World Health Organisation to ensure that developing countries have access to Covid vaccines— by the first week of June.

“Malawi has not received that number of vaccines. This is because we mainly rely on vaccines from India, which is the biggest producer of Covid vaccines. However, the government of India has ordered the company producing the vaccines not to export the vaccines until it has given enough supplies to the country’s population.

“This has affected us as we now have a short supply of vaccines in the country. As such, other cities are running out because we are giving the doses to those receiving [them] for the first time and the second time. At the moment, our strategy is to take the doses from other districts to cater for the districts that are running out [of them]. Some districts have a good supply but the demand is less while other districts have more demand,” he said.

Malango said the ministry had, however, been assured that the country would receive more doses through Covax from July this year.

In the meantime, he said, the country is creating bilateral agreements with countries that could assist in getting vaccines to Malawi.

In an earlier interview, Blantyre District Health Office Director of Health and Social Services Gift Kawalazira said Blantyre received 2,000 doses of the vaccine yesterday after the city had run out of doses a day before.

However, by noon, most of the vaccination points had run out of doses, which were sourced from other districts.

Kawalazira was speaking after the country’s former president, Bakili Muluzi, received his second jab of the Covid vaccine at his BCA Hill residence in Blantyre.

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