10m Covid jabs expire, Namboole on the brink

A man receives a Covid-19 jab in Kampala last in 2021. At its peak in 2020 and 2021, the government mounted countrywide campaigns aimed at rallying the masses to take the jab. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Authorities say the doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine expired because few people were taking the jab, either for the first time or as booster doses.

More than 10 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines frantically purchased at the height of the pandemic expired last December, costing the country billions of shillings.  

This is an increase from the 5.6 million doses valued at Shs28.159b that had expired by June 2023, as reported by Auditor General (AG) John Muwanga in his report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022/2023.

Dr Charles Ayume, the chairperson of Parliament Committee on Health, while tabling the Ministerial Policy Statement for the sector on the floor of Parliament on Friday, revealed that the doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine expired because few people were taking the jab, either for the first time or as booster doses. Sunday Monitor could not confirm the number of people who have been vaccinated.

“Covid-19 vaccines are in low demand and this leads to expiry of the stock in the medical stores and demand for funds for incineration. By December 2023, 10 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines had expired due to low uptake,” Mr Muwanga said.

While Mr Muwanga reported that the Health ministry had received funds to facilitate the recovery and safe destruction of the expired vaccines from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), Dr Ayume indicated that the National Medical Stores (NMS), the statutory body that distributes medicines across the country, had not been allocated the necessary funds in budget for the coming financial year.

“Funds should be provided to NMS for retrieval and destruction/incineration of expired Covid-19 vaccines and related supplies,” Dr Ayume said.  

According to the report, the NMS is perpetually underfunded, a hurdle that often leads to life-saving drugs and supplies remaining at the stores in Kajjansi, Wakiso, as opposed to being distributed in hospitals to save lives.

In his report, Mr Muwanga reported that the procurement of the doses at the height of the pandemic was informed by mere speculation as opposed to proper planning. The government procured the vaccines using loaned funds from the World Bank advanced for Covid-19 support.

Namboole debacle
Meanwhile, House Speaker Anita Among will tomorrow physically inspect the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole after Mr John Baptist Nambeshe, the Opposition Chief, revealed that it was red-flagged by the African football governing body, Caf.

Uganda is hoping to stage its 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifying matches at the stadium. The country’s senior men’s football team has previously played its home fixtures during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign in both West and North Africa.

“The inspection report has found [that] the stadium works are not compliant with the requirements and it hasn’t been approved. The [Sports] minister [Mr Peter Ogwang] had made an undertaking that by the time of the inspection, the works would be ready. He has let us down and I want the minister to report to us what has gone amiss,” Mr Nambeshe said in reference to the upcoming home fixtures against Botswana (June 3) and Algeria (June 10).

He added: “Moreover, these works, if we have an opportunity, if they can be expedited, we can have a second chance because we don’t have another venue to host [the] Fifa World Cup qualifiers.”

On Friday, Minister Ogwang told the House that only Shs80.13b of the Shs97.9b required to complete construction works in Namboole has been made available.

“In 20 months, the contractor has completed 90 percent of the works and this includes most of the civil, mechanical, and plumbing works, key installations,” he said, adding that other installations include “closed circuit television (CCTV), electronic access controls (turnstiles), sanitary appliances, spectacular seats, pitches, dressing rooms, doors [and] windows.”

The Sports minister also disclosed that the “equipment for maintenance of the pitches and running track was procured and delivered.” Plans are also in high gear, he added, to upgrade the 72-room sports hotel “to a three-star standard.”

The House was also told that “the contractor is currently fixing furniture and equipment for the match officials, media facilities, medical and anti-doping rooms.”

Minister Ogwang added: “With a shortfall totalling to Shs17.763b of the contract sum, the contractor has encountered challenges to complete the works.”

The affected works include “delivery of and installation of the floodlights, LED screens, technical benches, bleachers for people with disabilities (PWDs), the second batch of public address system, some of the civil and mechanical works.”

Speaker Among tasked Mr Amos Lugoloobi, the junior Finance minister, to release the outstanding Shs17.7b. Minister Lugoloobi later confirmed that this had been done and would be available tomorrow.

It was also revealed that the management of the Pioneer Easy Bus had refused to remove their buses from the parking space at Namboole hence hindering upgrade of the site.

“One of the issues raised in the Caf report was us putting signage on what the parking will be within the stadium. We must demarcate a parking space for our fans. I have directed the contractor to help me officially remove the buses out of the stadium,” Mr Ogwang told the House, adding, “Uganda Land Commission did lease out the parking of Namboole Stadium. We will do whatever it takes because it is a requirement by Caf to have those buses out of the stadium.”

Vaccine uptake

At its peak in 2020 and 2021, the government mounted countrywide campaigns aimed at rallying the masses to take the jab. At the time, the vaccines were touted as the only way out of the contagion that left more than 3,000 fatalities in the country, and the world on standstill.

The expiry of 10 million doses by December, out of the 12,595,920 total reported in the stores back as of June, would leave a little more than two million viable doses. 

Sunday Monitor could not confirm the shelf life of these doses. The report by Mr Muwanga, however, did not paint a very hopeful image.

“More expired Covid-19 vaccines still lie in various health facilities across the country and the total combined loss to be incurred next year is estimated at Shs300b,” the report states.

In October 2023, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health minister, told Parliament that vaccine uptake stood at 59 percent among adults, falling short of the targeted population of 22 million (adults only). She further reported that they were still recording cases, with 1,748 recorded between January and September of the same year.