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Malawi Adds More COVID-19 Vaccines in Attempt to Stem Surge

FILE - COVID-19 vaccines arrive to be destroyed, in Lilongwe, Malawi, May 19, 2021.
FILE - COVID-19 vaccines arrive to be destroyed, in Lilongwe, Malawi, May 19, 2021.

The Malawi government has announced it will start inoculating its citizens with several COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to protect more of its population amid growing coronavirus infections. Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda says the extra vaccine is necessary to fill a gap.

Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda says the COVID-19 vaccines Malawi has added include Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sputnik, Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Kandodo, who also is the co-chairperson of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, says the country is expected to receive a donation of 300,000 doses each of the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines in early August.

"We have done this because we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, as has been the case," said Kandodo. "That’s why we have opened up to include other vaccines, which can fill the gaps that would be created.”

She assured Malawians that the government has independently verified the safety and efficacy of the newly recommended vaccines.

Malawi stopped vaccinating its citizens in June when it ran out of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Records show that about 400,000 people have been vaccinated — far short of the 11 million people needed to reach herd immunity.

In May, Malawi destroyed about 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which expired in April.

The incineration was largely because many Malawians were reluctant to be vaccinated due to concerns about the vaccine's safety and efficacy.

Malawi is expected, however, to receive a fresh consignment of 192,000 doses of the AstraZeneca next week.

But Kandodo said the vaccine will be restricted to unvaccinated health workers and those who already have a single dose.

"We know there are a lot of people who are now willing to take the jab. But bear with us, other vaccines are coming," said Kandodo. "And the importance of Johnson &Johnson’s is that it’s a single dose vaccine. So, those who have never taken any vaccines will take these Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines.”

Health rights campaigner Maziko Matemba is advising the government to make vaccine available through a standardized program and stop relying on donated vaccine.

"Vaccine has to be part of our routine program so that everyone who wants that vaccine needs to get it," said Matemba. "Once you have the rights information and you are convinced that this is the vaccine that can save me, you should be able to get it, other than passing two to three weeks without vaccines at all.”

Kandodo said the problem Malawi is facing, though, is not about money to buy the vaccine but where to find it.

She said the Malawian government has just received about $30 million from the World Bank to help purchase COVID-19 vaccine.