Uganda seeks funds to destroy over 10m expired COVID vaccines

Uganda seeks funds to destroy over 10m expired COVID vaccines
Legislators on the Health Committee say by December 2023, 10 million COVID-19 vaccines had expired in NMS stores.

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The National Medical Stores (NMS) faces a significant challenge with a stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines valued at Shs 400 billion that are no longer in demand and require disposal. To address this issue, funds are needed.

Members of the Health Committee, under the leadership of their chairperson, Dr. Francis Ayume, revealed that by December 2023, NMS had recorded the expiration of 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in its warehouses.

“COVID-19 vaccines are on low demand and this leads to expiry of the stock in the medical stores and demanding for funds for incineration,” Dr Agume said.

“By December 2023, 10 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines had expired due to low uptake. Funds should be provided to National Medical Stores for retrieval and incineration of expired COVID-19 vaccines and related supplies,” he added.

Dr. Ayume did not however disclose the specific amount required for the incineration process, and attempts to obtain a comment from NMS were unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, Dr. Ayume informed Nile Post in a separate interview that both NMS and the National Drug Authority would need to determine the cost associated with the incineration process.

“It is the National Drug Authority that bills NMS for the destruction of the vaccines,” the Koboko Municipality MP added.

The vaccines in question were procured during the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the world from January 2020 through 2022.

An audit report in January highlighted that over 5.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, acquired with funding from a World Bank loan by the government, had expired. The last tranche of World Bank funding for vaccines was received in December 2021, amounting to $180 million (Shs684 billion) for the COVID-19 Response and Emergency Preparedness Project. However, according to the Auditor General’s report in January, the value of the vaccines withdrawn from health facilities and subsequently destroyed was estimated at Shs 28.1 billion.

Former Auditor-General John Muwanga warned of potential total losses exceeding $78 million (approximately Shs 400 billion) from expired COVID vaccines by the end of the year. Moses Kamabare, CEO of NMS, attributed the accumulation and expiration of vaccines primarily to declining demand.

Moreover, COVID-19 vaccines encountered resistance from certain groups of anti-vaccine activists globally. In Uganda, the government faced challenges, including legal threats, in response to its vaccination campaigns.

Also Read: FALSE: NMS is not supplying Ugandans with expired COVID-19 vaccines

Notably, journalist-turned-politician Joseph Kabuleta was arrested for his outspoken criticism of the vaccination program, particularly regarding the government’s mandate for schoolchildren.

Dr. Ayume emphasized the need for funding for the incineration of the vaccines, highlighting the persistent underfunding of NMS.

“The current funding gap stands at Shs 232.54 billion, which is worsened by the withdrawal of external support,” he said.

Last year, some donors opted to withdraw their funding support to Uganda due to the contentious anti-gay legislation.

These aid reductions specifically impacted vital sectors such as health, resulting in cuts to funding for malaria, tuberculosis, and immunization programs. It seemed to be a strategic maneuver aimed at pressuring the government to reconsider its stance on the legislation.