The UK threw away more than 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine after life-saving vaccinations passed their expiration date. The independent one can betray.
In what has been dubbed an “absolute scandal,” the government failed to donate the cans to poorer countries struggling for access to Covid vaccines – despite previous promises to redistribute supplies that were deemed redundant in the UK.
The doses were no longer needed in the UK after the decision was taken in May to stop offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger age groups due to concerns about rare blood clots.
That left a surplus of vaccines, of which 604,400 vaccines finally expired in August before being destroyed at the end of the month, according to a Freedom of Information request.
Labor said it was “staggering that such a colossal amount of life-saving syringes was allowed to be wasted,” while Oxfam said it was “shameful” for cans to be destroyed while frontline health workers in poorer countries remained unprotected against Covid -19.
At the G7 summit in June, the government pledged to donate 100 million vaccine doses to poorer countries by mid-2022. To date, around 20 million have been sent abroad.
However, to meet its target for next year, the UK will need to more than double its donation rate from 5.1 million cans per month to 11.5 million, according to the analysis.
Oxfam said the revelation that Britain destroyed more than 600,000 cans was “an absolute scandal” and “very the tip of the iceberg”.
“Our estimates suggest that by the end of this year at least 100 million vaccine doses could remain unused and expire in the G7 countries,” said Anna Marriott, a health policy manager for the charity.
“That number could rise to around 800 million wasted cans by mid-2022. It is clear that rich countries need to team up here.
“Their short-sighted vaccine nationalism and their free pass for big pharmaceutical giants to get as much as they want from these publicly funded vaccines is prolonging the pandemic and costing lives.”
While more than 46 million people in the UK have received both doses and an additional 12.6 million booster shots, the vaccination rate remains low in poorer countries.
In the lowest income countries in the world, only about 2 percent of people are fully vaccinated and about 96 percent have not yet received a first dose, according to parliamentary studies.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health minister, said the government must “ensure that where we have surplus supplies we meet our international responsibilities and do not throw vaccines in the trash”.
Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international health emergency organization, said it was “painful to see” unnecessary doses being thrown away in the UK, where enough supplies have been ordered to vaccinate the entire population three times.
“There was almost absolute secrecy about the supply of vaccines, as well as concrete plans to ensure fairer access for countries in dire need of doses,” said Victorine de Milliano, UK policy advisor for MSF.
“At a time when vaccines and other medical supplies against Covid-19 are scarce, and some countries have vaccinated less than 1 percent of their population, this waste is painful to watch.”
There are also ongoing concerns that cans donated abroad by the UK are often close to their expiration date, making it difficult for recipient countries to provide deliveries on time.
“The UK has donated shamefully few doses of vaccines,” said Nick Dearden, director of the Global Justice Now campaign group. “And many of the doses we gave were on their expiration dates.”
Global Justice Now said the government had failed to properly develop a plan for routinely dispensing its excess vaccine doses and instead focused on “grabbing as many as possible.”
The UK Health Authority said the 604,400 destroyed doses would no longer be needed for national rollout following the change in vaccination policy for under 40s and “could not be donated due to a short shelf life”.