UNICEF outlining plans to transport up to 850 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccines per month on behalf of COVAX, in ‘mammoth and historic’ logistics operation

UNICEF – in partnership with Gavi and WHO – is also helping low- and lower-middle-income countries prepare to receive COVID-19 vaccines in 2021

22 December 2020
©UNICEF/UN0200242/Singh
UNICEF/UN0200242/Singh

NEW YORK, 22 December 2020 – UNICEF could transport up to 850 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccines a month in 2021, according to a new global assessment. This quantity is dependent upon availability but would amount to more than double the average weight of vaccines UNICEF transports every month. Cambodia is one of the countries UNICEF will deliver vaccines to, under the leadership of the Royal Government of Cambodia and in close partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The new global assessment is part of UNICEF’s work to lead on the procurement and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries on behalf of the COVAX Facility, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“This is a mammoth and historic undertaking,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “The scale of the task is daunting, and the stakes have never been higher, but we are ready to take this on.”

In Cambodia, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health and the WHO to prepare the country for the roll-out of the eventual vaccines. The partners are working together to develop strategies for deployment, assess vaccine management and cold chain capacity, support the application of cold chain equipment aid from Gavi, develop a plan for old cold chain equipment replacement, estimate operational costs and needs, and prepare communications, advocacy and demand generation. At the sub-national level, UNICEF will support the Royal Government of Cambodia with community mobilisation and engagement, while helping monitor and evaluate the roll-out of vaccines. 

The UNICEF global assessment looked at global airfreight capacity and transport routes to better understand the challenges of delivering COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. It found that commercial airlines will be able to deliver vaccines to almost all 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries, which are among the 190 economies participating in the COVAX Facility, at an estimated cost of up to US$70 million.

Comparing vaccine volume estimates against commercial and cargo routes across the globe, the assessment also found that current air cargo capacity would be sufficient to make deliveries covering 20 per cent of the population for most of the 92 countries. COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be primarily shipped using existing passenger and cargo flight capacity, although charters or alternative transport options may still be needed for some small countries and others with access issues. UNICEF is working with airlines and the wider logistics industry toprioritise the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.

One major challenge in the COVID-19 vaccine operation is local cold chain capacity for vaccine storage within some low- and lower-middle-income countries. UNICEF, WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, developed a guidance note on supply and logistics to help countries develop their supply chain strategies to receive, store, distribute and manage COVID-19 vaccines and related products. Given the range of storage temperatures required for COVID-19 vaccines, countries will continue to train logisticians and health workers on how to keep COVID-19 vaccines at the right temperatures.

As part of a programme that started in 2017, with support from Gavi, UNICEF continues to procure and support the installation of 70,000 cold-chain fridges in lower-income countries by the end of 2021, which will help in the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines that need to be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. Almost half of these will be solar-powered.

UNICEF, WHO and Gavi are also working to help countries prepare and develop national deployment and vaccination plans. Currently, countries are continuing to monitor their readiness against key milestones, which include expediting regulatory approvals and putting in place ways to monitor vaccine safety. In addition, a UNICEF meeting this week with more than 300 vaccine procurement experts from across the world, including government officials, looked at ways to procure and roll-out COVID-19 vaccines and strengthen regulatory systems and supply chains.

Funding is critical. UNICEF has called for US$410 million to help countries with the delivery of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tools in 2021. Further, UNICEF estimates a funding gap of US$133 million to cover in-country vaccine logistics and the required cold chain equipment for the poorest 92 countries.

“With the imminent arrival of globally approved COVID-19 vaccines, we can begin to see signs of hope. But hope will not be restored by the vaccine alone,” said Fore. “Countries need urgent technical and financial support to strengthen their capacities for cold and supply chains, to train health workers, and to work with communities in combatting misinformation and building trust in vaccines. Without urgent funding and support, many of the poorest countries still risk being left behind.”

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About COVAX

COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the ACT-Accelerator. It is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, Civil Society Organisations and others. COVAX is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are rapidly available worldwide to economies of all financial means.

For more information, please contact:

Sabrina Sidhu, UNICEF New York, +1 917 4761537, ssidhu@unicef.org    

Anne Sophie Bonefeld, UNICEF Supply Division, +45 24694676, abonefeld@unicef.org

Media contacts

Rudina Vojvoda
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=434
Bunly Meas
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=435

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

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