Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Minister dodges question on whether any Covid-19 vaccines were destroyed

The Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, first ignored then dodged a simple question about Covid-19 vaccine doses.

With as many people as haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19 and as many vaccine doses as Botswana procured late last year, Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Mephato Reatile, wanted to know whether any vaccine doses have, at any one time, been destroyed on account of expiration.

When it finally came, the minister’s response was that there is a defined process, outlined in the government’s supplies rules and regulations and supervised by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, that has to be followed when vaccines are destroyed. In terms of such process, when vaccines expire, they are not simply destroyed. Lelatisitswe said that such vaccines are removed from the general good stock and an apparently lengthy process that he didn’t enumerate is followed until the vaccines are destroyed.

“The question couldn’t find someone who could answer it,” said Reatile in dejection when Lelatisitswe was done.

What the answer to that question should be is a matter of what one believes to be the case. With a high number of eligible people not having been vaccinated, the acceptance and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is not where it should be. Those vaccines have a finite lifespan and the government procured a certain quantity on the basis of the number of eligible people that it expected to get vaccinated. Low uptake certainly results in some doses expiring but Lelatisitswe was cagey with the elaborate detail that Reatile wanted. However, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has revealed that one batch of vaccine doses will expire next month and will thus be destroyed.

Earlier this month, Bongani Mbongani, a South African musician, who had been given a shot of Johnson & Johnson at the Tlokweng border gate, died at the Gaborone Private Hospital (GPH). He had been vaccinated in order that he could enter Botswana. Following the vaccination, Mbongani complained of an intense headache and then fainted. He was rushed to the state-owned Princess Marina Referral Hospital and later to GPH – at which point he was brain dead and had fallen into a coma.

While some online reporting says that Mbongani was “forced” to take the vaccination (which would have been unlawful) Lelatisitswe said that he had actually been vaccinated of his own volition. Minus the vaccination, the deceased would not have been able to enter Botswana and according to the minister, “he volunteered to be vaccinated.” Back home in South Africa, Mbongani had been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson for his first dose and was due for the second one. At the border gate, the same vaccine from the same manufacturer, was administered. Lelatisitswe said that the dose Mbongani was given was from a batch that is still in use and will expire next year. He added that the body has since been repatriated back to South Africa and that investigations are still continuing. 

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