JAKARTA: Indonesia has extended the shelf life of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to nine months, as nearly six million doses it received in donations were in danger of expiring, a health ministry spokesperson told Reuters on Tuesday (Mar 1).
The decision underscores challenges many developing countries face in their slow inoculation campaigns, as vaccines donated by wealthy countries arrive with a relatively short shelf life of just a few months or even weeks.
Indonesia, which reported record daily infections in mid-February due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, has fully vaccinated about 53 per cent of its population of 270 million. That compares with more than 70 per cent in richer nations.
Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a health ministry spokesperson, told Reuters it had six million doses of vaccines set to expire at the end of February, but only 200,000 of them had expired after it extended the shelf life of the AstraZeneca shot to nine months from six.
"The food and drugs agency extended the expiry date ... based on new available data about its efficacy," she said.
The expired vaccines are from Sinovac and Moderna Inc and add to 1.1 million expired doses that Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in January the country had discarded.
AstraZeneca did not immediately reply to a Reuters' request for comment.
The relatively short shelf life of AstraZeneca's vaccine is complicating the rollout to the world's poorest nations, according to officials and internal World Health Organization documents reviewed by Reuters last month.
Its shelf life of just six months from the date of bottling is the shortest among top suppliers to the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme, several COVAX and EU officials said.
Kurniasih Mufidayati, an Indonesian member of parliament overseeing health, called for the government to speed up vaccination on Monday.
"Even though the vaccines are free, but receiving and distributing them uses the state budget. If they go bad and are wasteful, it's a waste of the budget," she said.
Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi said last month after a meeting with COVAX and the WHO officials that it "hopes that vaccine recipient countries can get a longer expiry period."
Poorer nations rejected more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by COVAX in December, mainly because of a rapidly approaching expiry date, a UNICEF official said.
Nearly three million doses of vaccines were also thrown out by African nations, officials said, leading them to call for a longer shelf life for the shots donated.