Between February 2022 and August 2023, Colombia has wasted 7.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. This figure indicates that the population is increasingly hesitant to get vaccinated, mistakenly believing that the disease is no longer as harmful to health.
According to data from Colombia’s Ministry of Health, in 2023 alone, 41 children under the age of 4 have required medical care in intensive care units (ICUs), with 7 of them succumbing to complications from the infection. The situation is even worse among older adults. In the first 8 months of 2023, 600 people over the age of 60, who had not received any vaccine doses, have died in Colombia from COVID-19.
1.1 Billion Wasted Doses Worldwide
Colombia’s case is not unique. Until mid-2022, a total of 1.1 billion vaccine doses were wasted worldwide. Airfinity estimates that over one year, from July 2021 to July 2022, global vaccine wastage was approximately 10% of the doses provided by pharmaceutical companies.
The first countries to initiate mass vaccination of their populations began their vaccination campaigns at the end of 2020. However, these vaccines did not become widespread and reach most developing countries until June of the following year. Since then, over the next 12 months, the number of doses that expired and became unusable reached 1.1 billion.
Among the reasons behind this waste are delays in shipments. In many cases, vaccines arrived with very limited shelf life, giving countries insufficient time to distribute and administer them to the population. This argument was especially valid in the early months of mass vaccinations. However, for the subsequent months, the reason was the sharp decline in the number of people getting vaccinated, possibly due to the growing public awareness of vaccine-induced adverse reactions and premature deaths.
Investigation by Red Palta
In the case of Colombia, the investigation was conducted by the Network of Journalists in Latin America for Transparency and Anti-Corruption (Red Palta). This study reveals that around 300,000 million Colombian pesos (about 75 million dollars) have been lost due to vaccine wastage.
Although some loss was expected during the vaccination campaign, Colombia currently has the maximum allowable wastage, accounting for 8.6% of the 90.7 million doses administered as of June 30, 2023.
However, considering that losses are ongoing, the real losses are estimated to be 10.3%. The reasonable margin established by pharmaceutical companies ranged between 5% and 10% of the doses, so the country is slightly above the reasonable maximum.
Red Palta’s investigation also establishes that half of the 7.8 million wasted doses were lost in the last 2 months due to their expiration.
4 Million More Doses About to Expire
As things stand, the study asserts that there are still 4 million doses set to expire before the end of the year. To prevent this from happening, the Ministry of Health, municipalities, and Health Service Providers (EPS) should ensure that one million doses are administered in Colombia each month, which is currently far from being achieved.
The report also states that the vast majority (over 7.5 million) of the wasted doses were lost during the tenure of President Petro’s current government, which covers the period from August 2022 to August 2023.
Actions to Raise Public Awareness
The numbers highlight the need for a campaign to raise public awareness of the importance of completing their vaccination schedules. Until now, the Ministry of Health’s guidelines have focused on annual vaccination for people with chronic illnesses and comorbidities, but they have not gone further to address the hundreds of thousands of citizens who do not even complete the 3 doses recommended by health authorities.
Some Colombian media outlets have attempted to contact the Minister of Health, Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo, to inquire about this situation. However, these media outlets have not received any response from the Ministry.