Members of a medical team wearing protective suits clean the airfield to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Juba International Airport in Juba, South Sudan, April 5, 2020.
FILE - Members of a medical team wearing protective suits clean the airfield to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Juba International Airport in Juba, South Sudan, April 5, 2020.

JUBA - South Sudan’s National Task Force on COVID-19 is sending back 72,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to the COVAX facility for use in other countries before the doses expire.    

South Sudan received 132,000 doses in late March from COVAX, a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of coronavirus vaccines worldwide.    

The ministry decided to give back the doses after discussing the matter with the World Health Organization, said South Sudan’s Health Ministry undersecretary, Dr. Mayen Machuot.   

“We don’t want to run the risk of [the drug] expiring here in our hands. It will be accounted for, so we are committing back an amount of 72,000 doses so that they are used by someone who can deploy these doses in one week and then once we finish with our 60,000,” Machuot told reporters at a Juba news conference. 

The COVAX facility wrote back to the government, saying it was happy with the arrangement, as the doses will not go to waste.  

Machuot said South Sudan failed to use its doses because of a slow, initial response from health care workers to get vaccinated, delays by parliament to approve the vaccine’s use, and a lengthy time to train vaccinators.  

“We are struggling economically and this means it is labor intensive. It is an emergency vaccination, that’s why we have problems of funding the deployment itself. We are actually tightening our belts and that’s why hopefully in the next two weeks, the 60,000 we have will be dispersed all over the country,” said Machuot. 

Dr. Angelo Goup, director for emergency preparedness and response at the health ministry and a COVID task force member, said after health workers and the elderly were prioritized, the team opened vaccinations to the general public but many people were still reluctant to get the jab. 

“One of the major challenges that is raised by citizens are these negative videos on social media. We have assembled those videos whereby some people say this vaccine is not a vaccine, it’s just a genetic material for the virus, it doesn’t protect people,” Dr. Goup told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus program. 

He said the task force is doing its best to dispel those kinds of myths and educate the public about the importance of taking the vaccine. He urged people 16 and above to get vaccinated for their safety. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.