COVAX’s world Covid vaccination program secures almost 2 billion doses for UNICEF distribution

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 at the UCI Medical Center in Orange, California, United States.

Bing Guan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The global alliance, which aims to provide coronavirus vaccines to poor nations, announced Friday that it has supply agreements to provide nearly 2 billion doses and could ship them in the first quarter of its approval.

There are 190 countries and territories participating in COVAX, which is jointly managed by the World Health Organization Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation. The facility said it could secure the cans through additional supply agreements with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

COVAX plans to begin first shipments in the first quarter of 2021, when the drugs are approved. Enough doses should be given in the first half of next year to protect health and social workers in participating economies, the Alliance said. COVAX plans to ship at least 1.3 billion doses to 92 low and middle-income countries that will participate in the facility sometime next year.

“The arrival of vaccines gives us all a glimpse into the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, in a statement. “But we will only really end the pandemic if we end it everywhere at the same time. That means that it is important to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries.”

UNICEF announced on Friday that up to 850 tons of Covid-19 vaccines per month could be shipped to middle- to low-income countries over the next year. Commercial airlines will be able to deliver the vaccines to almost all of the 92 countries participating in COVAX, a UNICEF statement said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund is a United Nations agency that provides humanitarian aid to children around the world. UNICEF will work with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to coordinate vaccine procurement and support dispensing of the doses, said Gavi.

The humanitarian organization said the shots will likely be shipped primarily via existing passenger and cargo flights, although some charter flights or alternative modes of transportation will be required for hard-to-reach countries.

However, the world’s poorest countries are still facing a budget gap of $ 133 million for the distribution and storage of the cans, UNICEF said. According to the organization, which assesses global air cargo capacity and routes, the airline’s deliveries would cost the airline up to an estimated $ 70 million.

Countries will face additional challenges once the cans arrive, UNICEF said.

The temperature requirements for the vaccines being developed are range and require cold chain supply lines, trained medical staff and stronger contact efforts, said Henrietta Fore, executive director at UNICEF, in a statement released Friday.

“This is a mammoth and historic endeavor,” Fore said in a statement. “The scale of the task is huge and the stakes have never been higher, but we are ready to take on this.”

UNICEF said it would take $ 410 million to help countries deliver the vaccines and purchase therapeutic drugs and diagnostic tools over the next year. Funding has been a problem for the COVAX facility, which according to a Reuters report on Wednesday, citing internal documents, faces a “very high” risk of default due to lack of funds, delivery risks and complex contractual arrangements.

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