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What You Need to Know About the Largest Vaccine Operation in History

By Guest Author June 27, 2021

By: Yutong Ding, New Strategic Partnerships Lead, UNICEF Australia

Our work at UNICEF is wide-ranging. We work in over 190 countries and territories with the goal of saving children’s lives, defending their rights, and helping them fulfil their potential. We support children and their families from pregnancy to early childhood through to adolescence, and many live in some of the world’s most rural, vulnerable, and remote communities.

Every year we vaccinate half the world’s children. Now, we are using our 75-year history and expertise to reach every community with COVID-19 vaccines.

In 2021, the world’s largest children’s organisation is taking on a history-making mission for all of us. The most challenging and inspiring task that UNICEF has this year is leading the procurement and supply of COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the COVAX facility. On June 15, our team launched the COVID Vaccination Alliance of UNICEF Australia with a goal of bringing together leading Australian organisations, companies, and philanthropists to help UNICEF power the largest and fastest vaccine operation in human history and put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roundtable launch with business leaders in Australia
The COVID Vaccine Alliance of UNICEF Australia launched on June 15. The Alliance aims to raise critical funds for the delivery of more than two billion vaccine doses to the world’s most remote and vulnerable communities, and promote vaccine confidence in Australia.

Beyond distributing two billion COVID-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable and remote communities in the world, the Alliance aims to build vaccine confidence, champion equitable access to vaccines globally, and raise critical funds for vaccine rollout and emergency response.

UNICEF is the largest buyer and distributor of vaccines worldwide. Adding to this is our 75 years of experience in responding to emergencies since World Wall II. But leading the largest and fastest vaccination effort in history? That’s a huge undertaking. Here’s how we’re executing each step of the process, and relying on cross-sector partnerships to make it happen.

1. Purchase & Allocate Two Billion Vaccines

As the world’s largest vaccine buyer, we’ve built great relationships with some of the leading global vaccine manufacturers. These long-standing partnerships mean that we are best placed to negotiate and manage vaccine procurement with suppliers. As part of the Alliance, we aim to support delivery of more than two billion COVID-19 vaccines to 92 middle- and low-income countries.

2. Store & Deliver Vaccines to Remote Communities

A number of COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). All COVID-19 vaccines require cold chain support but the desired temperature varies depending on the vaccine type. Doses are sent directly by plane from the manufacturer or from our supply division to the country where they’ll be used, and they’re refrigerated the entire time. This process of end-to-end refrigeration is called the cold chain, and without it the vaccine would lose its effectiveness.

Once the refrigerated vaccines arrive in the respective country, they’re checked to ensure they weren’t damaged or kept at the wrong temperature while they were en route. Once they’ve passed the quality control check, they’re stored in cold rooms as they await the next phase of their journey to local health centres.

But getting to a health centre isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re talking about remote communities. Dedicated field workers — or as we call them, delivery heroes — accompany the vaccines through the last leg of their journey. Often, that means they’re carrying doses in cold boxes by any means necessary, which includes by foot, bicycle, boat, donkey, or camel.

People carrying vaccines up a mountain
Porters carrying COVID-19 vaccines to health facilities in Jumla District in Nepal’s remote far-west region. Image courtesy of UNICEF/UN0431117/ Prasad Ngakhusi

3. Build Vaccine Confidence

As of June 24th, UNICEF has delivered 88 million doses across 131 countries. However, as these efforts lead to unprecedented achievements, significant challenges still remain. Vaccine hesitancy continues to be one of the most difficult hurdles for the vaccine rollout, both in Australia and abroad. Twenty-six percent of Australians are hesitant to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and that number is over 50% in our neighboring country of Papua New Guinea.

While defensive measures such as social distancing, wearing a mask and lockdowns have helped to slow down the outbreak, vaccination is the only offensive measure that is available to combat the global pandemic, and time is not upon us. The longer the virus continues to spread unchecked, the higher the risk of more deadly or contagious variants emerging.

Working with its Advocacy Partners such News Corp and TikTok, the Alliance aims to provide reliable and accessible information on COVID-19 vaccines to help build public trust and encourage vaccine take up in Australia, as well as champion for global vaccine equality.

4. Vaccine Delivery!

Once the vaccines have finally made it to their destination, doses are delivered to communities and administered by trained healthcare workers. With only 1% of vaccines having been distributed to low-income countries before the Alliance was launched — compared to 47% being distributed to high-income countries — we strive to make vaccine access more equitable so that it is not a luxury. No one is protected until everyone is.

With a goal of delivering two billion COVID-19 vaccines to the most remote communities in the world, this vaccination effort is a huge undertaking — and we cannot achieve our goals alone. As the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, rightly said, “Only private and public working together can vaccinate the world and control the pandemic.” The COVID Vaccination Alliance provides a platform for cross-sector collaboration that aligns with the priorities of governments and communities around the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic won’t end for anyone until it ends for everyone. It will take cross-sector partnerships, individual contributions, and a worldwide effort to achieve the largest and fastest vaccine operation in history. You can help our team at UNICEF Australia make history by amplifying messages that build vaccine confidence, providing funding support through company contributions or employee fundraising, or making in-kind donations of goods and services.

Visit UNICEF for more information on how you can get involved with the COVID Vaccination Alliance of UNICEF Australia.

About the Author

Yutong Ding, New Strategic Partnerships Lead, UNICEF Australia
Yutong Ding

New Strategic Partnerships Lead, UNICEF Australia
Yutong leads UNICEF’s efforts in forming mutually beneficial partnerships across all industry sectors in Australia. She has recently been leading the formation of COVID Vaccination Alliance of UNICEF Australia which aims to bring together organisations, companies and philanthropists in Australia for global vaccine readiness and rollout. The Alliance supports UNICEF to build vaccine confidence in Australia and ensure equal access to COVID vaccine globally. It also facilitates surge response to emergency COVID outbreaks like India’s deadly second wave.