In collaboration with Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), UNICEF is leading efforts to supply approved Covid-19 for lower-mid-income countries around the world, most of which are in the West and Central Africa.
UNICEF has years of experience organizing the delivery of vaccines for routine immunizations and disease outbreaks such as the Ebola virus.
“West and Central Africa is one of the most complex environments you will find,” says Jean-Cedric Meeus, UNICEF’s Chief of Supply for the region. “We are dealing with the challenge of delivering Covid-19 vaccines to major cities, but also to extremely remote villages. We are preparing for all scenarios.”
1. Transporting vaccines
Bringing the vaccines from manufacturers to countries is the most difficult task. Not only does it require the airlines to have enough space, but the airlines also have to make sure that the vaccines are kept stable and stored in cold temperature from the moment it leaves the manufacturer until they arrive in the specific country and are ready for use.
The facility needed for the storage is already taken care of and it is known as the ‘cold chain’ which is the critical part of UNICEF’s current support to governments before COVID-19 vaccines arrive.
2. Solar powered vaccine storage
Since 2018, UNICEF has been working alongside governments. With support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, they have begun to buy and install solar-powered refrigerators to store vaccines. This idea is a game-changer for regional and district health workers who often struggle to carry out routine immunizations in places with unreliable electricity and cold storage facilities.
These fridges are suitable to store vaccines and require minimum temperature of 2-8°.
3. Lessons learned during the pandemic
Firstly, making sure that the cold storage facilities are in place from the manufacturer to where they will be delivered. Secondly, ensuring that the airlines have dedicated enough space to transport them across the globe. UNICEF is already working with global airlines and freights to plan the delivery.
The spread of the virus continued to grow since 2020, putting pressure on governments to save their people. UNICEF’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa, along with their partners, began to collect data for the required number of vaccines needed for routine immunizations in the region.
Lastly, the concern still remains after countries introduced travel restrictions and commercial airlines had to ground their planes. If so, the entire region could be left short of vaccine doses for measles and polio leaving millions of children at risk.