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UNICEF Gears Up for Global Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout

January 21, 2021

UNICEF knows how to get lifesaving supplies to the right place at the right time. The success of COVAX — the largest immunization campaign in history — depends on it.

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With the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines comes the hard part: vaccinating everyone in the world against the deadly virus.

The success of this historic undertaking hinges on nailing down the logistics of delivery — and making sure countries have what they need to store and handle the vaccines, all while keeping them cold.

UNICEF has been tasked with coordinating and supporting the procurement, international shipping and in-country distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for the COVAX Facility, a global initiative formed to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. In this role, UNICEF is already working to ensure that everything needed to support immunizations in 92 low and lower-middle-income countries is in place.

The goal is to deliver at least 2 billion coronavirus vaccine doses, 245 million therapeutics and 500 million diagnostic test kits by the end of 2021. The first wave of vaccinations will focus on high-risk and vulnerable people, along with front-line health and social workers.

UNICEF is already the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, protecting children in nearly 100 countries

UNICEF already procures more than 2 billion doses of vaccines annually for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries — reaching nearly half of the world's children under age 5. 

Mariangel, above, was immunized against polio in Venezuela in September. UNICEF will channel its expertise distributing over two billion doses of vaccines to children like her every year to make sure that no country gets pushed to the back of the line as coronavirus vaccinations get underway. © UNICEF/UNI371079/Párraga

No one is safe until everyone is safe

“COVID-19 is the first truly global crisis we have seen in our lifetimes," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore when she addressed the UN General Assembly Special Session on COVID-19 in early December. "No matter where we live, the pandemic affects every one of us. Children have been seriously impacted. However, with more news about promising vaccines, and as we begin to imagine a day when COVID-19 is behind us, our guiding principle must be that the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all."

The whole world will remain vulnerable to the virus until countries with the weakest health systems are protected from it as well. — UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore

UNICEF and the Asian Development Bank provided the protective equipment and medical supplies seen arriving here at Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport in June, which are now in use at COVID-19 isolation units in hospitals across the country. © UNICEF/UNI340728/Prasad Ngakhusi

UNICEF is leading procurement and coordinating logistics for rapid, safe COVID-19 vaccine delivery

Since the pandemic began, UNICEF has been working on all fronts to prepare for a vaccine's eventual release and fair distribution. UNICEF has been stockpiling single-dose syringes and purchasing safety boxes for safe syringe disposal while ironing out cold chain logistics with WHO. UNICEF has also installed hundreds of solar-powered refrigerators in countries that have little access to electrical power. In late 2020, UNICEF's Supply Division stepped up efforts with airlines, freight operators, shipping lines and other logistics partners to pave the way for rapid, safe delivery. 

Single-dose syringes that will be used to vaccinate people against COVID-19 come with safety boxes for their disposal. © UNICEF/UN0377320/Asamoah

In concert with this important groundwork, Fore urged high-income countries like the U.S. to do their part by taking a strong stand on unnecessary export controls and stockpiling of commodities. To help the countries in greatest need get their fair chance at affordable vaccines, Fore called for a global commitment to support and capitalize COVAX, and to finance the delivery of vaccines and related supplies. (U.S. officials announced the country would join COVAX the day after President Joe Biden was sworn into office.) 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak in Venezuela, UNICEF has distributed over 14,000 sets of personal protective equipment to health care workers on the frontlines. In Bolivar state (above), UNICEF conducted an immunization drive in July so that this 1-year-old and tens of thousands of other children wouldn't suffer from a disruption of vital care. © UNICEF/UNI347496/Urdaneta

PPE for front-line health care workers will keep children safe 

Ensuring health care workers are properly equipped to vaccinate vulnerable people remains a priority.

“We need all hands on deck as we get ready to deliver COVID-19 vaccine doses, syringes and more personal protective equipment to protect front-line workers around the globe," said Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF’s Supply Division. "By protecting these workers, we are ultimately protecting the millions of children who depend on their critical services.”

UNICEF's supply chain expertise 

Throughout the pandemic, UNICEF’s longstanding connections with the logistics industry have ensured that supplies have continued to get where they needed to go despite travel restrictions. Over the past 12 months, UNICEF has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars worth of COVID-19 supplies such as masks, gowns, oxygen concentrators and diagnostic test kits to help countries respond to the pandemic and continue caring for mothers, children and young people. Those connections will be vitally important as UNICEF manages the logistical challenges of a rapid vaccine deployment that leaves no one behind. 

With vaccines now authorized for use, donor support is still needed to provide critical supplies. For example:

  • $150 can provide 2,500 syringes
  • $130 can equip 10 UNICEF health workers with a portable vaccine carrier for transporting to remote and hard-to-reach places  
  • $50 buys 147 face masks
  • $100 buys 10 diagnostic test kits
  • $20 provides a family with 100 bars of soap

Children around the world continue to face life-threatening health conditions that have nothing to do with COVID-19. To ensure that front-line heath workers do not infect them with the dangerous virus, UNICEF provides workers, like this nurse at the neonatal intensive care unit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with personal protective gear that keeps their patients safe. © UNICEF/UNI395227/Saeed

The coronavirus vaccine is only the beginning

With donor support, UNICEF can continue fighting the coronavirus without sacrificing the essential programs children need to survive this crisis and grow up healthy, happy and hopeful about their future. The world's most vulnerable need help like never before. Please donate today.

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Top photo: A nurse prepares a syringe for vaccination at the Tegalrejo Community Health Center in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. UNICEF is supporting authorities in Central Java, the third most populous province on the island of Java, to ensure women and children continue to have access to essential health, nutrition and immunization services as well as key information on COVID-19. © UNICEF/UNI350117/Ijazah