South Sudan is looking to dispose of 60,000 expired doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as rollout of the drugs is hampered by scepticism among the population, a health ministry official said Monday.
The doses in question were donated by African telecommunications company MTN and the African Union late last month.
“When it reached here we later discovered that the (remaining) lifespan of this vaccine is just … 14 days,” Richard Lako, Covid-19 incident manager at the health ministry, said.
He said that drugs had since expired and were “already locked somewhere to be dealt with as soon as possible.”
Lako said the health ministry and drug authority were working on plans to dispose of the vaccines.
“The ministry is now engaging the African Union and the team with regards to that effect,” he said.
In late March South Sudan received a separate 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the Covax global initiative to ensure lower-income countries receive jabs.
However vaccination took a week to get underway and so far only 2,000 people, mostly health workers, have been vaccinated.
As in other parts of Africa, fears of side-effects, and rumours the vaccine causes impotence or is not safe, have led to wariness in the population.
“The issue (is) rumours. The rumours that people are having of course side effects, that the vaccine is not safe,” said Lako.
To date South Sudan has confirmed 10,475 cases of Covid-19 and 114 deaths. It has performed only 144,010 tests for a population of an estimated 12 million – one of the lowest testing rates in the region.
South Sudan, which is emerging from six years of brutal civil war, also faces serious logistical difficulties in transporting the vaccine around the country, due to lack of roads and security challenges.