COVID-19 vaccines: UN agency stockpiling syringes, mapping cold-chain storage capacity

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
© GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

Related tags cold-chain COVID-19 Vaccines WHO

UNICEF, the world’s largest single buyer of vaccines, is laying the groundwork for quick and efficient delivery of COVID-19 vaccines by purchasing and distributing more than half a billion single-dose syringes and other critical equipment in countries where it operates.

As soon as vaccines are licensed for use, the world will need as many syringes as doses of vaccine, said the UN agency on Monday [October 19]. It wants to be ready.

UNICEF’s advance stockpiling initiative is being done in collaboration with Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and it is part of a larger plan to accumulate one billion syringes by 2021 to guarantee supply and help ensure that syringes arrive in countries before the Covid-19 vaccines.

Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, said the vaccination effort would be “one of the largest mass undertakings in human history”​ and that the UN agency was looking to ensure the means to administer the vaccines would be available, where needed.

“In order to move fast later, we must move fast now. We will already have over half a billion syringes pre-positioned where they can be deployed quickly and cost effectively,”​ she said.

Unlike vaccines, which are heat sensitive and thus usually shipped by air, syringes have a shelf life of five years and are typically distributed via sea freight, explained the UN agency.

UNICEF said it was also purchasing five million safety boxes for disposal of used syringes.

Cold-chain infrastructure

To make sure that vaccines are transported and stored at the right temperature, UNICEF, along with the World Health Organization (WHO), is also mapping out existing cold chain equipment and storage capacity – in the private as well as public sector – and preparing necessary guidance for countries to receive vaccines.

“We are doing everything we can to deliver these essential supplies efficiently, effectively and at the right temperature,” ​Fore said.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with support from Gavi and in partnership with WHO, UNICEF said it has been upgrading the existing cold-chain equipment across health facilities in countries to ensure that vaccines remain safe and effective throughout their journey.

Since 2017, over 40,000 cold-chain fridges, including solar fridges, have been installed across health facilities, mostly in Africa, said the UN agency.

And in many countries, UNICEF is promoting solar technologies to help countries maintain supply chains.

In South Sudan, the least electrified country in the world, where temperatures frequently exceed 40 degrees Celsius, the agency reports that it has equipped over 700 health facilities  with solar power fridges, which represents around 50% of all facilities nationwide. 

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