UNICEF prepares to accumulate half billion syringes by year end

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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As the world is waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, UNICEF has started to prepare for a rapid, safe and efficient delivery of the eventual vaccine by purchasing and pre-positioning syringes and other necessary equipment.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has announced that it will accumulate about 520 million syringes in its warehouses, in line with its target to pool one billion hypodermic needles by 2021, to ensure adequate supply of syringes in countries before the COVID-19 vaccines arrive.

The UN agency said that as soon as COVID-19 vaccines get approval for trials and are licensed and recommended for use, the world will need as many syringes as doses of vaccine and to meet the need it has begun its preparation.

Assuming that there will be enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines by 2021, UNICEF expects to deliver more than one billion syringes to support inoculation efforts. In addition to the 620 million syringes that it will purchase for other vaccination programs against diseases like measles, typhoid and more.

Henrietta Fore
Henrietta Fore
Executive Director

“Vaccinating the world against COVID-19 will be one of the largest mass undertakings in human history and we will need to move as quickly as the vaccines can be produced. In order to move fast later, we must move fast now. 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. That’s enough syringes to wrap around the world one and a half times.”

UNICEF’s persistent partner Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, which works to increase vaccination in poor countries will refund the UN agency for collecting the syringes and safety boxes. Then it will be used for the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) and other Gavi-funded immunization programs if necessary.

In addition to the syringes, UNICEF is also buying 5 million safety boxes to safely dispose the used syringes and needles at health facilities.

UNICEF has affirmed that the shelf-life of syringes and safety boxes is five years. Lead-times for such equipment are also long as these items are bulky and need to be transported by sea freight.

By early purchase of syringes and safety boxes the market also reduces pressure on the market and prevents the sudden hike in demand when vaccines do become available as well as it will save time in vaccinating.

As the key procurement coordinator for Gavi, UNICEF is already the largest single vaccine buyer in the world by accumulating more than 2 billion doses of vaccines annually for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries.

Every year, UNICEF provides vaccines for almost half of the world’s children and procures and supplies around 600-800 million syringes for regular immunization programs. COVID-19 vaccines will likely increase that number, depending on the number of vaccines that are accumulated by UNICEF.

“Over two decades, Gavi has helped an additional 822 million children from the world’s most vulnerable countries access critical, life-saving vaccines. This would not have been possible without our partnership with UNICEF, and it is this same collaboration that will be essential to Gavi’s work with the COVAX Facility,” CEO of Gavi Seth Berkley stated.

To make sure that vaccines are transported and stored at the right temperature, UNICEF along with WHO is arranging existing cold chain equipment and storage capacity in both the private and public sectors.

“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,” Ms. Fore added.