Pfizer-BioNTech vials opened, but not administered in stipulated time
Some vaccination centres supplied more doses than needed
Unused vaccines secretly disposed, MoHW ignore calls
A growing number of problems related to the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to vaccination centres around the country have claimed the scalp of outgoing Director of Health Services, Dr. Malebogo Kebabonye.
On Wednesday, Dr. Pamela Smith-Lawrence was appointed Acting Director of Health Services, with no explanation given about Dr. Kebabonye’s whereabouts at a time when Botswana is grappling with a cumbersome vaccination programme.
With Covid19 related death toll rising every day, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) has been trying everything to conceal a vaccine wastage scandal unfolding in local health care system. Information gathered by The Patriot on Sunday is that a considerable amount of Covid19 vaccines have gone to waste as officials failed to handle them properly.
An investigation by security agents is said to have unearthed information showing that thousands of vaccines were recently destroyed. The total number of doses thrown out was later misrepresented in reports to the MoHW by District Health Management Teams (DHMT) officials. “They have been giving the Presidential Covid-19 task Force team wrong information and it shows that their leadership was lacking,” revealed a source.
The most wasted vaccine is said to be Pfizer-BioNTech, which recently arrived in Botswana with President Mokgweetsi Masisi getting his first jab. “The waste of the vaccine is gut-wrenching and unacceptable, especially when we are trying to push to have most adults vaccinated. Most of the Pfizer-BioNTech has gone to waste as it was destroyed because it was not used and the MoHW seemed to have been concealing the information,” revealed the source at MoHW.
According to a highly placed source in the ministry, the vaccine vials were opened, but their doses were not administered within the stipulated time as some centres were given more doses than they needed. According to information on Pfizer- BioNTech, once the ultra-cold vaccine is removed from ultra-cold temperature storage, the doses must be used within a certain amount of time. It cannot be returned to the ultracold warehouse once thawed.
Dr. Kebabonye took over from Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae, who was re-deployed to Princess Marina Hospital as a Consultant Surgeon. He would later dump government to join Sidilega Private Hospital as a Consultant Surgeon.
Efforts to solicit a comment from Dr. Kebabonye, about her sudden departure from the MoHW proved futile as she did not answer repeated calls to her mobile phone.
On Thursday and Friday, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Edwin Dikoloti also did not answer calls to his mobile phone.
Though the final nail that sealed her directorship was the savingram that she indicated that the cabinet had decided to extend the COVID-19 vaccine to the country’s leadership to ensure continuity of governance, the problem was more profound than that.
Immediately after the savingram, Permanent Secretary in MoHW Slyvia Muzila released a statement indicating that Cabinet had not decided to vaccinate the executive and their spouses. “The Ministry wishes to state for the record that it has not received any Cabinet Directive to that effect. The ministry is continuing to implement the National Vaccine Deployment Plan as approved by cabinet,” reads part of the statement.
Contacted for comment, MoHW Public Relations Officer Christopher Nyanga said “There are no vaccines that have been destroyed on account of not having been used. What has happened as happens in all inoculations, is that some doses do not get used when there are breakages of the vials or when in the opinion of the medical officer in charge, such doses have been affected by changes in temperatures. In other countries, COVID-19 vaccines have not been used after they expired before they could be used. This has not been the case for us”.
Nyanga confirmed that Dr Pamela Smith-Lawrence has been appointed Acting Director of Health Services. He said Dr Malebogo Kebabonye who has been Director of Health Services has been re-deployed to serve the Ministry in another capacity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)(pdf), 50% of vaccines are wasted worldwide. However, that number is highly variable across countries, healthcare settings, and types of vaccines.