The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has begun laying the groundwork for COVID-19 vaccination by purchasing and pre-positioning syringes and other necessary equipment, said the fund on Monday.
UNICEF will stockpile 520 million syringes by the end of this year in its warehouses, part of a larger plan of 1 billion syringes by 2021, to guarantee initial supply and help ensure that syringes arrive in countries before the COVID-19 vaccines, it said.
"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," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a press release.
"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."
Besides syringes, UNICEF is also buying 5 million safety boxes so that used syringes and needles can be disposed of in a safe manner, thus preventing the risk of needle stick injuries and blood-borne diseases. Every safety box carries 100 syringes.
Lead-times for injection equipment such as syringes and safety boxes are long as these items are bulky and need to be transported by sea freight. Vaccines, which are heat sensitive, are normally transported more quickly by air freight. In addition to saving time, early purchase of syringes and safety boxes also reduces pressure on the market and preempts potential early spikes in demand when vaccines do become available, said the press release.
To make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are transported and stored at the right temperature, UNICEF, along with the World Health Organization, is also mapping out existing cold chain equipment and storage capacity and preparing necessary guidance for countries to receive vaccines, it said.