More than 100 million doses of COVID vaccines were rejected in December, UNICEF official said, while 681 million shipped doses were unused in about 90 countries.
Poorer countries rejected more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the global COVAX program last month, mainly because of their impending expiration date, a UNICEF official said.
The figure shows the difficulties in vaccinating the world population despite the growing supplies of jabs, with COVAX approaching the delivery of one billion doses to a total of almost 150 countries.
“More than 100 million were rejected in December alone,” Etleva Kadilli, director of the UNICEF’s supply chain, told lawmakers at the European Parliament on Thursday.
The main reason for rejection was the delivery of doses with a short shelf life, she said.
Poorer countries have also been forced to postpone supplies because they have inadequate storage facilities, Kadilli said, including a lack of refrigerators for vaccines.
UNICEF did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the number of doses rejected so far.
In addition to rejected doses, many others sit unused in storage facilities in poorer countries.
UNICEF’s data on supplies and use of delivered vaccines show that 681 million dispensed doses are currently unused in some 90 poorer countries around the world, according to CARE, a charity that extracted the figures from a public database.
More than 30 poorer nations, including major states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, have so far used less than half of the doses they received, CARE said, citing UNICEF data.
COVAX, the global program led by the World Health Organization, has so far delivered 989 million COVID-19 vaccines to 144 countries, according to data from GAVI, a vaccine alliance that co-manages the program.
COVAX is the leading provider of doses to dozens of poorer nations, but is not the only one. Some countries buy doses on their own or use other local vaccine procurement programs.
Supplies to poorer countries have long been very limited due to the lack of vaccines, as richer states have insured most of the doses initially available from December 2020.
But in the last quarter, shipments have increased exponentially thanks to donations from rich countries that have vaccinated the majority of their populations.
In January, 67 percent of the population in richer countries were fully vaccinated, while only 8 percent in poorer countries received their first dose, WHO figures show.
The faster pace in supplies has caught many recipient countries unprepared.
“We have countries pushing doses that are currently available to the second quarter of 2022,” Kadilli said.
Of the 15 million doses of EU refused, three-quarters were AstraZeneca’s injections with a shelf life of less than 10 weeks on arrival, according to a UNICEF slide shown to EU lawmakers.
Rich countries donating vaccines with a relatively short shelf life have been a “major problem” for COVAX, a senior WHO official said last month as many doses were wasted.
Up to one million vaccines expired in Nigeria in November without being used.