UNICEF tapped to lead COVID-19 vaccine rollout for COVAX
UNICEF played a leading role in the most ambitious immunization campaign in world history: ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Before COVID-19, UNICEF was immunizing nearly half the world’s children, overcoming logistical challenges and braving the roughest of terrains to reach those in need. When COVID-19 vaccines proven safe and effective became available, UNICEF — the only organization with the necessary infrastructure, expertise and buying power — was immediately tapped to lead procurement and spearhead equitable distribution to low- and middle-income countries as part of COVAX.
Some 1.89 billion doses have been shipped to 146 countries (check UNICEF's COVID-19 market dashboard for updates.)
UNICEF has also been working nonstop worldwide to help mitigate the damage the pandemic has done — and continues to do — to children. Because of COVID-19:
- the number of children living in poverty is estimated to have risen by 142 million
- at least 1 in 7 children and young people lived under stay-at-home policies for most of 2020 — impacting mental health and well-being, access to education, health care and other essential services
- up to 94 percent of students worldwide were affected by school closures at the height of the pandemic and at least one-third were unable to access remote learning
- disruptions in food systems and health and nutrition services left tens of millions of children hungry
UNICEF is focusing on helping countries strengthen health systems to restore essential services that were interrupted at the height of the pandemic response and to help prevent future pandemics.
How to help
Vaccinating the world, country by country
UNICEF's role in the fight to end the pandemic included rushing vaccines and other critical supplies to countries in need. Countries like:
Afghanistan was the first country in Central Asia to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses through COVAX, with UNICEF coordinating procurement and supply. The first shipment of 468,000 doses was prioritized for teachers and university professors, which helped Afghanistan’s students get back to learning safely. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Afghanistan.
When Bolivia received COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, health worker Jeanine Mendonza Robles, head of the COVID department at a small regional hospital, breathed a deep sigh of relief — not just for herself and her family but her community and her patients.
"Once I got the vaccine as a frontline worker, I felt safer to care for patients and avoided getting sick because of COVID," she said. Robles also felt more confident treating the unvaccinated children in her care. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Bolivia.
The arrival of 504,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses in Côte d'Ivoire sparked hope in a country where the most vulnerable households had borne the brunt of the pandemic's severe economic toll. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Côte d'Ivoire.
On Feb. 24, 2021, Ghana became the first country to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, beginning the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Ghana.
In June 2021, a fleet of refrigerated trucks bearing the flag of Honduras lined up to receive a shipment of 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at the Armando Escalón Espinal Air Base in San Pedro, Honduras. Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, welcomed the doses donated by the U.S., as long-awaited relief in a country that had one of the lowest vaccination rates in Latin America. "These doses are a glimmer of hope to the region and all countries waiting anxiously for COVAX doses," Gough said. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Honduras.
India's deadly second wave of COVID-19 nearly brought the country's health care system to breaking point. Hospital beds filled beyond capacity, and dwindling supplies of oxygen and medical equipment threw health workers into a desperate battle to save lives. Read about how UNICEF sent lifesaving equipment and supplies to India and supported more than 50,000 COVID-19 vaccination centers across 57 states.
Refugees' rights to health care travel with them wherever they go, and UNICEF is committed to protecting refugees — and ensuring those rights — every step of the way. When COVID-19 vaccines first arrived in Jordan via the COVAX facility in March 2021, UNICEF helped Ministry of Health reach all those eligible for the vaccines, including refugees.
“I am happy that the government of Jordan started giving us vaccines," said Aesha, a 62-year-old refugee from Syria who has lived in the Za'atari refugee camp since 2013. Learn more about how UNICEF’s COVID-19 relief efforts in Jordan.
When Kenya received 1 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in March 2021, frontline health workers were vaccinated first. Once teachers, other essential workers and people over age 58 became eligible, 60-year-old Crispin Bolo Otira, father of five, rushed to get his COVID-19 vaccine and made this plea: “I urge those who have reached my age to get vaccinated. Now we have this weapon, we can fight coronavirus.” Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Kenya.
A nurse who believes the people who live in Laos are like one big family had the honor of administering the first COVID-19 vaccine dose to a patient at Mittaphab Hospital in Laos' capital, Vientiane. Though she could relate to her patients’ fear of infection during the early days of the pandemic, Somsouk Khounmany is happy that one year later she is able to help her patients feel hopeful again. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Laos.
UNICEF specializes in delivering vaccines to some of the hardest-to-reach places on Earth. That includes remote communities in the Himalayas. Meet UNICEF’s Indra Kala Tamang, a health worker who traveled five days to support the vaccination campaign in Jumla, one of the most remote districts of Nepal's Karnali Province. The last mile of a vaccine’s travels is an achievement UNICEF and partners make possible by installing cold rooms and refrigerators along the way to ensure vaccines arrive at their final destination effective and safe.
Delivery of nearly 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, was just the beginning of UNICEF’s mission to help the country recover from the pandemic's devastating effects on its already weak service infrastructure. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Nigeria.
When Peru received COVID-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility, the elderly made their way to the vaccination center in Lima, Peru, leaning on canes or rolling up in wheelchairs pushed by family members and caregivers. Being vaccinated gave Peru's senior citizens protection that can prolong their lives and something else just as precious: the freedom to hug the grandchildren again. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 lifesaving relief efforts in Peru.
On March 4, 2021, more than 480,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in the Philippines via the COVAX Facility. Health workers and people with underlying health conditions were among the first to be vaccinated. For one ICU nurse, that meant a chance to see her husband and son after almost four months apart. UNICEF’s delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines has reunited many families wrenched apart by the pandemic. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in the Philippines.
Rwanda was the first African country to receive shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. But the war on COVID-19 cannot be won without another critical weapon: soap. Meet Community Mobilizer Anaclet Musoni. A farmer by trade, Musoni helped keep the impact of COVID-19 largely at bay in places like the Mahama neighborhood in Kamombo Village by reminding people not to let down their guard and by preaching the importance of handwashing. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Rwanda.
By early 2021, South Africa had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates of any country in Africa. Meet two brave health workers who survived COVID-19 and quickly got back to work.
In Sudan, residents who promoted past immunization campaigns used their know-how and networks to overcome vaccine hesitancy and educate their communities about COVID-19 vaccines. Convincing the public that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and free is essential to protecting those most at risk — the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Sudan.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Tunisia was a leader in North Africa in containing the coronavirus and keeping hospitalizations and deaths low. But as cases started to rise, UNICEF joined forces with the Scouts, a national organization with young volunteers in all of Tunisia's 24 provinces, to fight COVID-19. Learn more about how the Scouts and UNICEF collaborated on lifesaving COVID-19 relief efforts in Tunisia.
Vanuatu had been blessed by relatively few COVID-19 cases. But as vaccination efforts continued through the COVAX Facility, UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and local partners had the unique challenge of convincing the population to get vaccinated against a disease that so far has had little impact. Read more about UNICEF's COVID-19 relief efforts in Vanuatu.