More than 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine were rejected in December, while 681 million doses were not used in about 90 countries, UNICEF officials said.
Poorer countries rejected more than 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine distributed by the global program COVAX last month, largely because they were due to expire, a UNICEF official said.
This graph shows the difficulty of vaccinating the global population despite increasing vaccine supplies, with COVAX approaching 1 billion doses to nearly 150 countries.
“In December alone, more than 100 million people were turned away,” Etleva Kadilli, director of supplies at UN agency UNICEF, told lawmakers at the European Parliament on Thursday.
The main reason for rejection, she said, was doses with a short shelf life.
Poorer countries have also been forced to delay supplies because they don’t have adequate storage facilities, including a lack of refrigerators for vaccines, Kadilli said.
UNICEF did not immediately respond to inquiries about the total number of doses rejected so far.
In addition to the rejected doses, there are many other doses that go unused in storage facilities in poorer countries.
According to CARE, a charity that pulls data from public databases, UNICEF data on the supply and use of delivered vaccines shows that 681 million doses are currently unused in about 90 poorer countries around the world.
Citing data from UNICEF, CARE said more than 30 poorer countries, including large countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, have so far used less than half the doses they received.
COVAX, a global program co-led by the World Health Organization, has so far delivered 989 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 144 countries, according to GAVI, the vaccine alliance that co-manages the program.
COVAX is a major supplier of doses to dozens of poorer countries, but not the only one. Some countries purchase their own doses or use other regional vaccine procurement schemes.
Due to the lack of a vaccine, supplies to poorer countries have long been very limited, as richer countries received most of the doses available from December 2020.
But in the last quarter, shipments grew exponentially as rich countries vaccinated large parts of their populations.
In January, 67% of the population in richer countries was fully vaccinated, while only 8% in poorer countries received their first dose, according to the World Health Organization.
The accelerated pace of supply caught many recipient countries off guard.
“We have some countries that are pushing the currently available doses into the second quarter of 2022,” Kadilli said.
Of the 15 million doses rejected by the EU, three-quarters were AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has a shelf life of less than 10 weeks, according to a UNICEF slideshow to EU lawmakers.
Donations of vaccines with relatively short shelf lives from wealthy countries have been a “major problem” for COVAX because many doses are wasted, a senior WHO official said last month.
As many as 1 million vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria in November not used.