South Sudan will return 72,000 doses of donated COVID-19 vaccines after concluding the country cannot administer the jabs before they expire, a health ministry official told AFP on Tuesday.
The country received 132,000 doses of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine in late March from Covax, the global initiative to ensure lower-income countries receive jabs, but so far has administered less than 8,000 shots.
The rollout has been hampered by vaccine hesitancy and major logistical hurdles in the vast and underdeveloped country of 12 million, which, apart from the pandemic, faces an emergency food crisis and widespread armed insecurity.
“There’s a plan to deliver back 72,000 doses to Covax,” Angelo Goup Thon, the head of Covid-19 operations at the health ministry, told AFP. He said the decision was made late Sunday by the ministry undersecretary, Mayen Machut Achiek.
South Sudan will be left with 52,000 doses that it hopes to use before the expiration date on July 18. Once that batch is finished, it will request additional doses from Covax, the ministry said.
Covax told the government they were “very happy with this arrangement”, according to Achiek.
South Sudan is emerging from years of civil war and lacks roads and other basic infrastructure required to reach its population in remote areas.
As in other parts of Africa, a fear of side effects and rumours the vaccine causes impotence or is otherwise unsafe have spurred wariness about vaccines among the population.
Last month, South Sudan was considering disposing 60,000 expired vaccines it received as a donation through the African telecommunications company MTN and the African Union.
To date, South Sudan has recorded 10,686 cases of Covid-19 and 115 deaths.