COVID-19 & Global Immunization

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COVID-19 & Global Immunization


Geneva Palais briefing note on the impact of COVID-19 mitigation measures on vaccine supply and logistics
GENEVA, 1 May 2020 – “UNICEF is calling for support to unlock a massive backlog in vaccine shipments due to unprecedented logistical constraints related to COVID-19 mitigation measures including lockdowns in some countries.

“In 2019, UNICEF procured 2.43 billion doses of vaccines for 100 countries, to reach approximately 45 per cent of all children below five years old.


“Since the week of March 22, UNICEF has seen a 70 – 80 per cent reduction in planned vaccine shipments due to the dramatic decline in commercial flights and limited availability of charters.

“As of today, dozens of countries are at risk of stock-out due to delayed vaccine shipments. At most risk are 26 countries that are difficult to reach due to limited commercial and cargo options. Among these, at least five countries experienced measles outbreaks in 2019 and many more remain at risk. 

“Compounding the challenge is the exorbitant cost of securing flights, with freight rates at 100 – 200 per cent above normal and charter flights even more costly.

“Countries with limited resources will struggle to pay these higher prices, leaving children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, measles, polio and other vaccines were out of reach for 20 million children below the age of one every year.

“Disruptions in routine immunization, particularly in countries with weak health systems, could lead to disastrous outbreaks in 2020 and well beyond.

“A substantial proportion of the vaccines that are not reaching countries as planned are for routine immunization programmes. Because of the delays, countries have been using buffer stocks, which typically consists of a three-month supply that is intended for unplanned and urgent needs including responding to sudden outbreaks. As transport challenges persist, countries are at increasing risk of a vaccine stock-out.

“The extended delays in shipments also pose a huge risk to manufacturers, who must store the excess vaccine stocks, and may be required to postpone future production if their warehouse storage space is exceeded.

“UNICEF is working to find solutions with manufacturers and partners, including WHO, GAVI, the vaccine alliance, PAHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some manufacturers have offered to support with their freight forwarding services, and GAVI has provided additional funding to support charter flights.  And we continue to work with governments to monitor their stock levels, prioritize the most critical vaccine shipments to avoid stockouts and respond to the needs of their immunization programmes.

“However, the logistical situation remains severely constrained. And many countries require additional funding support.

“UNICEF is appealing to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines. And to work with us to find ways around the transport disruptions we face. Children’s lives are at stake.”

Press release
Disruption of childhood vaccination in South Asia poses an urgent threat to children’s health – UNICEF
4.5 million of South Asia’s children miss out on routine immunization, even before COVID-19
KATHMANDU, 28 April 2020 – South Asia could face yet another health emergency if children across the region do not receive their life-saving vaccine shots, UNICEF warned today.

Almost a quarter of the world’s unimmunized or partially immunized children—about 4.5 million children—live in South Asia. Almost all of them, or 97 per cent, live in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. With lockdowns in place as a part of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) response, routine immunizations have been severely disrupted, and parents are increasingly reluctant to take their children to health centers for routine jabs. Sporadic outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and diphtheria, have already been seen in parts of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

The South Asia region is also home to two of the last polio endemic countries in the world, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Vaccine stocks are running dangerously low in some countries of the region as supply chains have been disrupted with travel bans and cancelled flights. The manufacturing of the vaccines has also been disrupted, creating additional shortages,” says Paul Rutter, Regional Health Advisor for UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA).

Many of the health facilities throughout the region, where millions of children are normally vaccinated, have been closed and outreach sessions have been suspended, adding to the challenge.

“As long as frontline health workers take the appropriate precautions, particularly washing their hands, there is no reason not to vaccinate – in fact, it is crucial that vaccination continues,” says Paul Rutter.

Across the region, national mass vaccination campaigns have been postponed. Bangladesh and Nepal have postponed their national measles and rubella campaigns while Pakistan and Afghanistan have suspended their polio campaigns.

UNICEF strongly recommends that, where immunization campaigns are suspended, governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control.

“We are very concerned about the impact of not getting children vaccinated,” says Jean Gough, Director of UNICEF ROSA. “Many of these children are already vulnerable. While the COVID-19 virus does not appear to make many children seriously ill, the health of hundreds of thousands of children could be impacted by this disruption of regular immunization services. This is a very serious threat. Early action is key.”