BRUSSELS: Poorer nations have refused tens of millions of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines from the global programme COVAX, a document shows, the latest sign that its short shelf life is sapping demand for the shot.
COVAX is the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine-sharing programme. It has so far distributed 1.4 billion jabs to 144 countries and is co-managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the vaccine alliance Gavi.
As it rushes to boost vaccination in poorer nations, COVAX assigned over 200 million doses to 61 less developed countries, including most African states, for the six months through September.
But, according to a COVAX document dated April 11 and published this week by the WHO, only a tiny portion were AstraZeneca.
A spokesperson for Gavi, speaking on behalf of COVAX, said that several countries “indicated shelf life preferences that could not be met with available AstraZeneca supply,” and they were therefore allocated other vaccines.
Countries declined to receive nearly 35 million AstraZeneca doses, opting to replace them with vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna, the document says.
For the six months, poorer nations asked for only around half a million doses of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, which COVAX had initially regarded as its main supplier.
In contrast, they requested around 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca Vaxzevria vaccine produced in Europe, which was similar to the amount of Chinese vaccine doses requested, according to the document.
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Requests for J&J and Pfizer shots were much higher, at 70 million and 40 million, respectively.