In anticipation of forthcoming Covid-19 vaccine approvals, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced plans to stockpile 520 million syringes in its warehouses, part of a larger plan to have a billion syringes ready for use through 2021 in order to guarantee initial supply and help ensure that syringes arrive before vaccines are distributed.
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 both the private and public sectors, 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, as we already do so well all over the world,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and with support from the global vaccine alliance Gavi and in partnership with WHO, UNICEF 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, more than 40,000 cold-chain fridges, including solar fridges, have been installed across health facilities, mostly in Africa, and solar technologies are being promoted in many countries to help maintain supply chains, according to the agency.
In South Sudan, the least electrified country in the world, where temperatures frequently exceed 40°C, more than 700 health facilities have been equipped by UNICEF with solar-powered fridges—about 50 percent of all facilities in that nation.
UNICEF says the Covid-19 vaccination efforts will be on top of the 620 million syringes the agency intends to purchase for vaccination programs against other diseases such as measles and typhoid.
“By the end of the year, we will already have over half a billion syringes pre-positioned where they can be deployed quickly and cost effectively,” said Fore. “That’s enough syringes to wrap around the world one and a half times.”
UNICEF is also buying five million safety boxes, each capable of carrying 100 syringes, so that used syringes and needles can be disposed of in a safe manner by personnel at health facilities, reducing the risk of needle stick injuries and blood borne diseases.
The agency, originally known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, was created by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1946, to provide emergency food and healthcare to children and mothers in countries that had been devastated by World War II. Its mandate was later extended to address such long-term needs in all developing countries, dropping the words ‘international’ and ‘emergency’ from the name in 1953, but retaining the original UNICEF acronym.