Malawi to roll out AstraZeneca vaccine: ‘We have received advice from WHO’

The Ministry of Health says preparations are at an advanced stage for the rollout of AstraZeneca Vaccine in March this year.

This is according to a statement released by the Ministry of Health dated February 14 and signed by Secretary for Health Charles Mwansambo.

He said Malawi has made a decision to use the vaccine following technical advice from World Health Organisation (WHO), the Malawi Covid-19 expert group and the Malawi Immunization Technical Advisory Group.

Mwansambo added that the vaccine has acceptable safety profile, and Malawi has capacity to handle the vaccine as it needs to be kept and transported at temperatures of between +2 degrees Celsius and +8 degrees Celsius.

“Technical information from WHO and the national expert groups shows that the vaccine is efficacious in preventing Covid-19 disease,” said Mwansambo.

The initial phase of the Malawi vaccination programme will target 20 percent of the population including the elderly, frontline health workers, social workers and people with underlying conditions.

“Vaccinations will be done on a voluntary basis, thus individuals will have a choice whether to be vaccinated or not,” said Mwansambo.

He, however, urged those in the targeted group to receive the vaccine once vaccination starts and he also encouraged people to follow what the Ministry of Health is communicating.

Malawi is expected to procure 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with financial and technical assistance from COVAX facility and WHO. More doses are also expected to be procured with assistance from donors.

Earlier this month, South Africa suspended rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after it was noted that the vaccine is less effective against the variant that was first detected in that country. The same variant has also spread to Malawi, according to Malawi Government.

South Africa has since procured shots from Johnson and Johnson and, according to Reuters, the country plans to share its one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries.

On Monday, WHO listed two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX.

According to the health organisation, its Emergency Use Listing (EUL) assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and is a prerequisite for COVAX Facility vaccine supply. It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

In the case of the two AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines, WHO assessed the quality, safety and efficacy data, risk management plans and programmatic suitability, such as cold chain requirements. The process took under four weeks.

“Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.

“But we must keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access. To do that, we need two things – a scale-up of manufacturing capacity, and developers’ early submission of their vaccines for WHO review.”

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