Covid-19: 100 000 Pfizer doses to expire at end of March due to waning vaccination rates

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Health Minister Joe Phaahla receives his Johnson & Johnson booster shot at Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital on 14 December 2021 in Pretoria.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla receives his Johnson & Johnson booster shot at Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital on 14 December 2021 in Pretoria.
PHOTO: Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius
  • 100 000 doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine are expected to expire at the end of March.
  • No Johnson & Johnson doses are expected to expire this year.
  • The health department says Nedlac is expected to make recommendation to the National Coronavirus Command Council regarding vaccine mandates.

The health department has announced they are at risk of destroying 100 000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines which expire at the end of March.

On Friday morning, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced that because of waning vaccination rates, unused Pfizer doses will expire at the end of the month.

"It will be sad if a significant dose of vaccines is discarded. We hope that we don’t reach that stage."

Vaccination rates, Phaahla said, have been slowing down, especially in the younger age groups.

"Our biggest drawback is the 18-34 years age cohort with 34% coverage and 29.3% full vaccination; we need at least another five million of this cohort to get to 60% coverage."

Currently, 47.95% of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The department's Dr Nicholas Crisp said the country currently had 25 million doses of vaccines, 13 million of which were Pfizer. He said the Pfizer vaccine had a shelf life of between seven and nine months.

No Johnson & Johnson (J&J) doses were in danger of expiring this year, Crisp said.

He added:

Pfizer is more difficult to store and the logistics are more complicated. If we are unable to use it at the period, we have to destroy it.

He said 100 000 doses would expire on 31 March, but that they didn’t expect a risk of expiration in April.

"But from May, June and July, the number of doses that are going to expire increase. Those are the ones we are in the process to swap out with countries and jurisdictions that need vaccines now.

"There are countries struggling to get vaccines at the moment. Ten percent of the adult African population are vaccinated. There are countries that need vaccines now and one wants to give them a fair chance of getting them used," Crisp said.

Phaahla said they were working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Covax to see if vaccine exchange programmes could be put in place.

"If two or three months ahead of time, we see that a certain number of doses will not be utilised, we reach an agreement with some of the partners who have a faster uptake to take our doses and, when we are ready for the return of those doses, we can get them," he said.

Phaahla said the government was in the final stages of consulting on whether to have vaccine mandates or not.

He said: 

The issue of vaccination mandates remains a difficult topic in our midst. A team of senior government officials have been leading consultations with various stakeholders, including at Nedlac and they should be ready to report at the next NCCC (National Coronavirus Command Council) with recommendations.

"While there are different views on the matter, the undisputed fact is that the more people are vaccinated, the more we can open many economic and social activities safely."

He said if South Africans wanted to reopen more sectors – like attending sporting activities and concerts – vaccination rates needed to increase.

"To reclaim our lives is possible. We appeal for those who have not come forward [to vaccinate], to come forward. Those who have not boosted, to come forward."

Crisp said healthcare workers would soon be allowed to get a Pfizer booster shot after having two doses of J&J.

For the general public, Crisp said after getting a second Pfizer dose, people could get a booster shot after 90 days.

"After the two doses of Pfizer, you can either get boosted with Pfizer or J&J dose. The second option is that you get one dose of J&J, and 60 days later we offer a J&J or Pfizer as a booster."

There are no boosters available for people under 18.

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here. If you can't find the facts you're looking for, email us at the address mentioned in the article and we will verify the information with medical professionals.

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