Avoiding Covid-19 vaccine wastage

Despite the efforts to address wastage, the government needs to make a firm decision on what to do with the expired doses.


A woman receives a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Jakarta on Jan. 12, 2022. (AFP/Adek Berry)

March 7, 2022

JAKARTA – Circulating reports about 18 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine that may have expired at the end of February 2022 have triggered safety concerns, hence damaging public trust in the vaccination drive.

For one, the Health Ministry has insisted that the actual number of expired vaccines should be substantially lower. Furthermore, experts maintain that expired vaccines might not harm recipients’ health. Failure to quickly address the issue, however, will adversely affect the government’s vaccine rollout, which has not achieved its target yet.

The ministry’s COVID-19 vaccination spokeswoman, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said the government had been aware of the potential for 18 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to expire by the end of February. That was why the government had accelerated the vaccination efforts, involving the Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police, to prevent the wastage from occurring, Siti said.

Moreover, many regencies and cities have not yet updated data on their close-to-expiry vaccines. Most recently, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) has made some assessments to extend the expiry date of COVID-19 vaccines, especially AstraZeneca.

To avoid the wastage, the Health Ministry released a circular dated Jan. 12 and signed by Disease Control and Prevention Director General Maxi Rein Rondonuwu, asking local administrations to prioritize the use of close-to-expire vaccines.

Indonesia has so far secured 460 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine of various brands, 300 million doses of which have been distributed nationwide. On top of that, the government has received 30 million doses of vaccine in the form of aid from developed countries.

Expired vaccines, regardless of the number, underpin the problem of distribution. Many regions, especially in the eastern parts of the country, remain far from achieving the national target. The government aims to fully vaccinate 181.5 million citizens, or 70 percent of the total population, by March 2022.

Greater involvement of religious leaders and community figures, such as village, neighborhood unit (RT) and community unit (RW) heads, was imperative in the government’s efforts to expand vaccination coverage, Siti said. Door-to-door vaccination campaigns also needed to be continued to accelerate its bid toward achieving the national COVID-19 primary vaccination target, she added.

Despite the efforts to address wastage, the government needs to make a firm decision on what to do with the expired COVID-19 vaccine doses. Expired vaccines, though not dangerous, will lose efficacy in fighting the coronavirus.

As each vaccine clearly stipulates its expiry date, tough sanctions should spare no one – be it doctors or other clinicians – for any harm that happens after the use of products clearly labeled as “expired”.

Worse, people may be more reluctant to get vaccinated because they fear they will receive an expired vaccine. A lack of public trust in vaccines will disrupt the government’s national vaccination drive.

It is urgent that the government assures a cautious public that it has taken proper measures to remove expired vaccines from storage facilities, clinics, hospitals and other healthcare providers. Announcing a clear date publicly on when it will destroy the expired vaccines will be crucial to build people’s trust in COVID-19 vaccination.

Leaving the expired vaccine issue unaddressed would also exacerbate vaccine hesitancy and therefore undermine the national vaccination campaign, hence the fight against the pandemic.

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