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Thursday May 27 2021

COVID-19 jab: Could Pakistan’s vaccine doses expire soon?

Illustration by Aisha Nabi.

Pakistan was shipped its first batch of the coronavirus vaccine on February 1. Since then, Pakistan has received a variety of vaccines – mostly from China - either through donations or those it purchased itself.

Till April 28, Pakistan had been able to secure over 18.7 million doses of the life-saving drug, according to Dr Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to the prime minister on health. Yet, only a fraction of those doses, therefore 6.1 million have been administered till May 27.

Pakistan aims inoculate 70 million people, roughly 70% of its adult population.

That means only 4.5% of the targeted population has so far received a single dose while 2.2% has been fully vaccinated.

In order to grapple with vaccine hesitancy, health officials have announced plans to ramp up vaccinations by opening up the drive for citizens above 19 years of age on Thursday. But vaccines don’t last forever, is the clock ticking on their expiry date?

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, which are being used in most developing countries, only have a shelf life of up to six months, since both the vaccine require ultra-cold storage to be kept, the companies said in November

So, should Pakistan be concerned about its vaccines expiring?

Short answer, not yet.

None of the vaccines Pakistan has purchased need to be stored in freezing temperatures.

Dr Faisal Sultan told that the vaccines being administered in Pakistan have the following minimum and maximum expiry dates:

The China-made Sinopharm vaccine:

  • Minimum expiry date - 16 Dec 2022
  • Maximum expiry date - 30 March 2023

The China-made Sinovac:

  • Minimum expiry date - 24 April 2023
  • Maximum expiry date - 10 Apr 2024

The China-made CanSino:

  • Minimum expiry date - 18 Aug 2021
  • Maximum expiry date - 12 Oct 2021

In a recent statement, the World Health Organization also urged African countries who were set to destroy expired vaccines to hold on to them and wait for further guidance.

The WHO's Africa regional director Matshidiso Moeti appealed to countries to store the vaccines safely “as we continue to study and try to get definitive advice on whether the vaccines can be used for longer".