The Ministry of Health has resolved to destroy a consignment of 150,000 doses of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine donated to Uganda in March by the Mauritius government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highly placed sources in government have confirmed.
The decision by the Health ministry followed an April 13 letter by the National Drug Authority (NDA) chairperson, Dr Medard Bitekyerezo, to the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, stating that they inspected the consignment and found it unfit for use because of irregularities in importation and storage.
Destroying the vaccines, which are sold at a price of $30 (Shs113,000) per dose, means the country will destroy jabs worth Shs17b.
Dr Bitekyerezo explained in the letter that the consignment of the Sinopharm vaccine, which arrived on March 1, without their knowledge, aboard a Kenya Airways plane, lacked temperature data loggers.
The temperature data is essential to track the adherence to storage temperature standards, which is an important component for ensuring the vaccine potency is maintained.
“The inspectors were unable to ascertain the integrity of the cold chain system during storage over the last month. Furthermore, the certificate of analysis and independent Lot release certificate for the Covid-19 vaccine (Vero cell/Sinopharm), inactivated Lot No. 202108B2331 were not shared,” he wrote to Dr Aceng.
“It is against this background that NDA rejects this consignment of the Covid-19 vaccine as we can’t assure the public of the safety, quality and potency,” he added. The official expiry date of the vaccine is August 10, according to NDA.
Mr Abiaz Rwamwiri, the NDA spokesperson, told this newspaper last evening: “Please note that NDA reviewed this matter and gave the minister of Health a technical guidance. If you need any clarification, I advise that you contact the Ministry of Health.”
Dr Aceng had ordered the NDA to inspect the consignment following a request from the Foreign Affairs minister, Gen Jeje Odongo, about the consignment, according to sources.
“The ministry compliments Mauritius Government with reference to the donation of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines to the Republic of Uganda. The certificate of analysis and independent lot release certificate for the Covid-19 vaccine were not availed,” Dr Aceng wrote to Gen Odongo on May 10.
“It is against this background that NDA rejected the consignment, notwithstanding our earlier listed challenges communicated to your ministry regarding the fact that the consignment dispatch did not follow the standard procedures of any vaccine donation as expected to avoid the kind of challenges being experienced,” she added. She couldn’t be reached for comments by press time.
Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Health ministry spokesperson, said he could not comment on the matter because he had not yet seen the letter.
Dr Aceng recommended that because of these factors, the vaccines, which are still at Entebbe International Airport, be destroyed.
“Please be informed that the country is not able to utilise the vaccines under the prevailing circumstances. The only option is incineration. The NDA will need to be supported with funds to undertake this at Nakasongola. It is our humble request that you guide on a way forward. The vaccines are still being held at the airport,” she said in the letter.
She didn’t state the amount of money that will be required to destroy the vaccines.
Gen Odongo couldn’t be reached for a comment about the move by the Ministry of Health to destroy the jabs.
But the State Minister for Foreign affairs, Mr Henry Oryem Okello, said: “Why should I be concerned, I am not a medical practitioner. They are the professionals, it is their field of speciality to know whether something is good or bad.”
This is coming at a time the government is struggling to exhaust about 44.7 million doses of vaccines it acquired largely through donations and some through direct procurement.
At least 16 million Ugandans have been vaccinated with one dose, while more than 10.9 million are fully vaccinated since the exercise started in March 2021, according to the ministry.
The initial target was to vaccinate around 22 million people, who are 18 years and above but this has been extended to those 12 years or older in a move to effectively contain the pandemic and guarantee economic recovery.