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Ministry assures on Covid vaccine safety

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Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has assured people that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer Covid vaccines are safe, at a time health officials in the country are preparing to receive them for the first time since Malawi registered the first Covid case on April 2 2020.

This is happening at a time MoH officials have indicated that the government is on course to buying 1.8 million doses of different types of Covid vaccines.

The country has been using Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been made available through the Covid Vaccine Access (Covax) Facility. Late last month, United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund and the government of France also donated Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the Government of Malawi.

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Malawi settled for the vaccine at the onset of its vaccination programme because it could be easily kept in normal fridges while the other vaccines require ultra-cold storage conditions of up to negative-20 and 70 degrees Celsius.

However, the country is set to receive consignments of J&J and Pfizer vaccines, raising questions on ability of the country’s cold-chain system.

MoH spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said they have learned that the vaccines can be kept in normal fridges for 31 days, which is enough time for health officials to distribute them across the country.

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“We did not opt for J&J the first time because, among other things, we could not manage to keep the vaccine at the recommended temperatures of -70 to -60 degrees Celsius.

“However, new information from the manufacturer is that we can still store the vaccine at -4 degrees but not longer than 31 days,” Chikumbe said.

By yesterday, district health offices reported that they had zero doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in stock.

This coming Friday, the country is expected to receive 302,400 doses of J&J vaccine and health officials believe that the vaccine can be exhausted within 31 days of arrival.

In an earlier interview, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said the country would, from this week, also receive 120,000 doses of AstraZeneca, 300, 000 doses of Pfizer and, again, 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in September under the Covax Facility.

In another development, MoH has said it would investigate reports that there are more Covid-related deaths than are being reported in rural areas of the country .

Public Accounts Committee of Parliament members brought the issue to light Tuesday in Lilongwe, where MoH officials appeared before legislators Tuesday.

Secretary for Health Dr Charles Mwansambo said the ministry has received reports about deaths in rural areas and was training more personnel in coronavirus testing.

“Up to now, it was just laboratory people that were doing the testing for Covid but, now, we are training more health cadres to do the testing,” Mwansambo said.

He added that healthcare workers would have to be allowed to take samples from dead bodies for coronavirus tests to ascertain the cause of death.

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