Transporting syringes to the world

COVID-19 vaccination programmes depend on a constant and reliable supply of syringes. In early 2021, UNICEF set about delivering 1 billion auto-disable syringes essential to ensure global immunization efforts could begin as soon as the vaccines arrived.

23 February 2021: UNICEF staff inspect the first delivery of syringes and safety boxes delivered via COVAX at Velana International Airport, Malé, the Maldives.
UNICEF/UN0421059/COVAX/Shaarif Ali2
22 February 2022

By February 2021, the world was on standby to receive the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX initiative. The largest vaccine procurement and delivery operation ever undertaken was about to begin.

In fact, the operation had got under way months earlier, when UNICEF’s global supply hubs in Copenhagen and Dubai began stockpiling hundreds of millions of auto-disable syringes and the safety boxes needed for their safe disposal. The aim was to have these critical supplies pre-positioned in low- and middle-income countries so that vaccination campaigns could be launched as soon as the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived.

Journey of the syringe

The first delivery of 100,000 syringes landed in Malé, the Maldives on 23 February 2021. By the end of the year, UNICEF and its COVAX partners had delivered 845.7 million syringes to 92 countries, including 0.5ml, 0.3ml and dilution syringes for use with different vaccines in the COVAX portfolio. In addition, 8.6 million safety boxes had been delivered. With time of the essence, custom charter flights were used instead of normal sea freight to reach some Pacific islands, other remote locations and in emergency settings.

Overcoming supply bottlenecks

By mid-2021, global demand for syringes was far outstripping supplies, while international freight operations faced serious disruption.

To address the situation, UNICEF renegotiated supply contracts while fresh long-term agreements were signed with new manufacturers. As a result, syringe availability was maximised to help ensure sufficient supplies were available to support global vaccination efforts in 2022.