MONTREAL, Quebec — Across the globe, countries have adapted to a new reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease continues to impact housing, global health, economics and mental health, which has already left millions in a state of crisis. To combat these detrimental effects, it is imperative to tackle the root cause — the virus itself. Fortunately, two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, developed a vaccine to fight against COVID-19. There is a need for vaccine dissemination worldwide. However, developing nations are at a disadvantage in the battle against COVID-19 in terms of vaccine distribution and storage. Under these circumstances, UNICEF plans to make vaccine access equitable by bringing COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations.
Vaccine Distribution Limitations in Developing Countries
The logistics of vaccine distribution are not as straightforward in developing countries as in the developed world. Shipping the vaccine out to various countries already places initial barriers in obtaining vaccines before expiration. Even if the vaccine is transported efficiently to each country, it must still be sent off to various regions within the country. With each additional travel location, the ability to receive an effective vaccine diminishes, which puts those in remote communities at a greater disadvantage.
In developing countries, three out of four people live in rural areas, sometimes with incomplete road infrastructure. Oftentimes, healthcare workers must go to extreme lengths to provides vaccines to these rural populations. The healthcare workers typically lack adequate means of transportation, so they must carry the vaccine doses on the back of a motorbike, bicycle, boat or even a horse. The issue of vaccine transportation to remote areas is further complicated by inadequate vaccine storage capabilities. Proper vaccine storage requires strict adherence to multiple regulations. This is a struggle in developed nations, let alone in developing nations. In response, UNICEF has created a plan to help bring COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations through cold storage improvements.
Vaccine dissemination operates through a cold chain system. Under this structure, the vaccine transportation and distribution process requires vaccines to be chilled at an optimal temperature throughout every step. Current infrastructure cannot support this demanding procedure. UNICEF’s plan to combat this issue comprises a network of refrigerators and cold storage rooms as well as implementing new technology. The idea is an innovative refrigerator that relies on solar power to remain functional. This would provide an alternative for those without electricity, which would make vaccine storage more feasible. The cold chain system necessary for functional vaccine distribution would be within reach for countries all around the world, even developing ones.
UNICEF and COVAX
UNICEF has expanded its efforts to bring COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations by joining in the global vaccine initiative, COVAX. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is co-leading COVAX with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), alongside UNICEF. UNICEF aids the project as a developing country vaccine manufacturer. The initiative leads the vaccine procurement and delivery for 92 low-income and lower-middle-income countries. It also focuses on procurement for more than 97 upper-middle-income and high-income countries. As such, this effort will cover more than four-fifths of the global population.
On February 3, 2021, UNICEF announced the signing of a long-term supply agreement with the Serum Institute of India. It will focus on vaccine products through AstraZeneca and Novavax, which remained subject to the approval of the vaccine by the WHO at that time. Following the announcement, the WHO approved the two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency usage. This indicated that the vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India were available for global rollout through the COVAX facility. UNICEF also announced the signing of an additional agreement with Pfizer on the COVAX facility’s part for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine delivery throughout 2021. The facility estimates that the majority of the first-round deliveries will take place by the end of March 2021. The COVAX goal is to deliver at least two billion safe and effective vaccine doses to participating countries.
A Means to an End
UNICEF has long-standing expertise with procuring vaccines. The organization obtains more than two billion doses of vaccines every year for responses to outbreaks and routine immunization in nearly 100 countries. With the advent of the pandemic, UNICEF has shifted its aim to develop new technologies and prioritizes proper health education. UNICEF is committed to bringing COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations.
Through UNICEF’s partnership with Gavi, it has prevented more than 13 million deaths by providing life-saving vaccines to more than 760 million children. The Global COVAX facility, alongside UNICEF and several other partners, promises to aid the world’s most vulnerable populations in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the most time-efficient manner. UNICEF’s concerted efforts to fight COVID-19 offer hope for a foreseeable end to the pandemic.
– Sarah Frances