UNICEF Gears Up to Roll Out the Coronavirus Vaccine Around the World

December 16, 2020

UNICEF excels at getting lifesaving supplies to the right place at the right time. The COVID-19 vaccine is no exception.

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Now that approved candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine are emerging, the success of the global effort to vaccinate people against the deadly virus hinges on nailing down the basics: gloves, masks, syringes and carriers to keep the vaccines cold.

Vaccinating the world against the coronavirus will be one of the largest mass undertakings in human history. UNICEF has a critical role: to ensure that, as vaccines become available, they and all the supplies needed to immunize people living in 92 low and middle-income countries are in place. UNICEF is also is also in charge of procurement for an additional 90 countries, using its buying power as the largest vaccine purchaser on behalf of low and middle-income countries. 

UNICEF is the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, protecting children in almost 100 countries each year 

Every year, UNICEF procures more than 2 billion doses of vaccines for routine immunization and outbreak response,  protecting nearly 50 percent of the world's children in almost 100 countries. That track record has earned UNICEF a leading role in COVAX, a global initiative led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, now working on behalf of 186 countries to ensure that high-risk and vulnerable people, along with front-line health workers, receive this lifesaving vaccine. By the end of 2021, UNICEF aims to deliver at least 2 billion coronavirus vaccine doses, 245 million therapeutics and 500 million diagnostic test kits. 

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. © 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 pre-positioning syringes and other supplies 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 with the goal of having 520 million prepositioned and ready for use by year's end. UNICEF is also purchasing 5 million safety boxes for safe disposal of the syringes by health workers after they've been used, ironing out "cold chain" logistics with WHO, and procuring solar-powered refrigerators to store vaccines in countries with little access to electrical power. Last month, the UNICEF Supply Division stepped up its 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 has 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 calls for a "... global commitment to support and capitalize [COVAX], but also to finance the delivery of vaccines and associated supplies such as syringes and safety boxes." 

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 is also 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. Since January, UNICEF has delivered more than US$190 million 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. 

And now that vaccines are being authorized for full use, fast action is required to pre-position the critical supplies your donations can help provide:

  • $150 can provide 2,500 syringes
  • $130 can equip 10 UNICEF health workers with a portable vaccine carrier they can use to transport the vaccine to the world's remote places 
  • $50 buys 147 face masks
  • $100 can buy 10 diagnostic test kits
  • $20 is all it takes to give a family 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

Vaccinating the world will be no easy task. But with your 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