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240m COVID vaccine doses at risk of waste in Japan, U.S. and Europe

  • October 7, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 2:00 a,m.
  • English Press

ANNA NISHINO and TAKESHI KUMON, Nikkei staff writers


TOKYO/CAIRO — Advanced nations hold hundreds of millions of excess coronavirus vaccine doses at risk of expiring before they can be given to people in developing countries that have had greater difficulty in sourcing shots.


About 100 million doses purchased by or promised to Group of Seven and European Union members are to expire by year-end, even after taking booster shots into consideration, an analysis by U.K. research firm Airfinity shows. A total of around 240 million will come within two months of expiring, a point at which they become logistically difficult to send to emerging economies.


G-7 and EU inventories will exceed 1 billion doses at the end of 2021, according to Airfinity, as supply outstrips demand. The analysis assumes that all countries will administer booster shots but does not consider vaccine approvals for children younger than 12.


Coronavirus vaccines supplied to advanced economies typically have shelf lives of six to seven months. When doses are distributed to emerging countries through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, time is needed to secure cold storage and transportation to inoculation sites. This time must be taken into account when considering the expiration dates of donated shots.


Japan has purchased or agreed to buy 560 million doses. The country has fully inoculated more than 60% of its population, despite a slower start to its vaccination campaign than in Europe and the U.S. Nearly everyone in Japan who wants the vaccine is expected to receive it by around November, after which shots are expected to pile up.


Airfinity estimates that vaccines in Japan’s stock will start entering the two-month window around the end of the year, assuming that the country begins administering booster shots to older recipients eight months after their second dose. More than 100 million doses would fall within that period as of March.


Japan distributed Pfizer and Moderna doses to local authorities as it received them, and did not take particular note of expiration dates, according to the Cabinet Secretariat.


A healthcare worker receives a COVID vaccine shot in Soweto, South Africa. Just over 300 million doses have been shipped through the COVAX program to date, far below the initial target of 2 billion by year-end.   © Reuters

Meanwhile, the country has increased donations of AstraZeneca shots — which were limited to older age groups in Japan — to minimize waste. With demand for doses from other vaccine makers expected to decline, Tokyo will need to consider similar options for its soon-to-be excess supply.


Coronavirus vaccine manufacturers are on track to churn out 12.2 billion doses by the end of this year, enough to fully inoculate the world’s entire population of those 12 and older.


But much of this supply has been promised to advanced countries, and vaccination campaigns in emerging economies will continue to fall behind without well-planned sharing arrangements. Just over 300 million doses have been shipped through COVAX to date, far below the initial target of 2 billion by year-end.


Another stumbling block involves underdeveloped cold chain logistics networks in developing countries. Advanced economies will need to provide support in this area, too. Malawi incinerated 20,000 expired doses in May, and the Democratic Republic of Congo returned 1.3 million doses to COVAX that were at risk of expiring before they could be administered.


Countries further along in vaccinating their populations need to provide organized, large-scale donations of shots that have plenty of shelf life remaining, said a representative at Gavi, the international vaccine alliance that co-leads COVAX.

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