COVID-19 vaccines from the supply side
Q & A with UNICEF Sudan’s Supply and Logistics Officer
There is a lot that goes into ordering, transporting and tracking supplies of any form before they arrive at their destination. Cross checking amounts and details to ensure accuracy, are some of the very few items on the check list that Amna Osman, Supply and Logistics Officer reviews when preparing to receive a shipment. For this specific shipment, the check list was even longer.
Over the years, Amna has overseen transportation of various shipments while in UNICEF but confirms that this consignment that involved the first ever COVID-19 vaccines for the country and in the MENA region was different. We had a chat with her, and this is her story.
Could you tell us what goes into ensuring safe delivery of vaccines?
Critical supply chain activities such as cold chain assessment, secure distribution and logistics and safe handling of health care waste are among the critical things we look out for when preparing for a vaccine’s delivery. As such, we ensured that safe delivery of the COVID-19 just like any other vaccines was included an essential component in the national deployment and vaccination plan. An assessment of the full cold chain distribution at all levels was done to ensure the vaccines would be kept at the right temperature from the time they arrived at the airport, through transportation to the national storage facilities and eventually to the final service delivery point – the vaccination center.
What was your role in ensuring safe delivery of the first ever covid-19 vaccines for Sudan?
Unlike other shipments, the COVID-19 vaccines shipment was unique and delicate. Working closely with partners from the Federal Ministry of Health specifically the logistics team, ensured all required paperwork was in place and certificates obtained way ahead of time for smooth clearance. Thankfully, a waiver was obtained to prioritize the vaccines and in only 24 hours all approvals were in place. Despite the smooth initial process, I didn’t sit back. I continued tracking the shipment from the time it was loaded until its destination – Khartoum international airport, while providing regular updates to colleagues who were responsible for documenting the arrival of the vaccines. Even when the vaccines arrived, I still ensured they were transferred safely to the national cold store for storage at the right temperature, awaiting further distribution and vaccination.
“For the vaccines to remain potent, this process has to be followed otherwise we risk losing them all.”
What did you do differently to ensure this consignment arrived on time and safely?
This time round, all the approvals were obtained within a very short time and trucks on standby at the airport an hour before the shipment arrived, ready for immediate loading. For a quick and timely quality check we ensured an official from the quality control authority was present for immediate check of the shipment and loading of the vaccines to the cold chain store. Thanks to the great partnership between UNICEF and the Federal Ministry of Health that supported the successful clearance and immediate delivery of the shipment safely.
How do you feel now that Sudan received these vaccines and what impact will they have on the population?
As a UNICEF team member, I feel very proud to be part of this team and the COVAX global initiative that is procuring and delivering Covid-19 vaccines to less privileged countries for equitable access. Sudan was the first country in the MENA region to receive the vaccine from the COVAX Facility marking a historic moment for our country. It has been a very difficult time for everyone and lots of lives were lost during the pandemic and with the vaccine here, we are hopeful for a better tomorrow.
I am also excited that health workers have been prioritized to get the vaccine. Given the critical role they play in caring for others, their continued protection is paramount. When they are safe, we are safe.
Prior to the vaccines, Sudan also received syringes and safety boxes. Why are these supplies critical to the upcoming Covid-19 vaccination exercise?
There can be no vaccination without syringes! To date we have supported the delivery of two batches of syringes and safety boxes for Sudan. These supplies are very essential for a successful vaccination campaign and am glad that they came ahead of the vaccines. For all Covid-19 vaccines delivered across the world, corresponding numbers of syringes and safety boxes have been sent ahead. The safety boxes will support safe disposal of used syringes immediately after administration and prevent risks of infections.
What next for you on the supply side after the arrival of the first batch of vaccines?
We will not rest until the last shipment of the 17 million doses ordered by Sudan have arrived in the country. Hopefully this will be possible before the end of 2021. However this will only be realized if we work as a team towards a common goal – vaccines for all regardless of who they are, including refugees and displaced persons. Equitable access is what the COVAX Facility aims to achieve.