By Lin Taylor
LONDON, Nov 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Nearly 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be shipped and flown to developing countries next year in a "mammoth operation," the UN children's agency UNICEF said on Monday, as world leaders vowed to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines.
UNICEF said it was working with over 350 airlines and freight companies to deliver vaccines and 1 billion syringes to poor countries such as Burundi, Afghanistan, and Yemen as part of COVAX, a global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan with the World Health Organization (WHO).
"This invaluable collaboration will go a long way to ensure that enough transport capacity is in place for this historic and mammoth operation," said Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF's Supply Division, in a statement.
COVAX — co-led by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; the WHO; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations — aims to discourage governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most at risk in every country.
At a G20 summit this weekend, leaders of the biggest 20 world economies pledged to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs, and tests so that poorer countries are not left out.
Even before the pandemic hit, access to vaccines was unequal with around 20 million babies not receiving vaccines that could save them from serious diseases, death, disability, and ill health, according to the WHO.
"We need all hands on deck as we get ready to deliver COVID-19 vaccine doses, syringes, and more personal protective equipment to protect frontline workers around the globe," said UNICEF'S Kadilli, who is working with the Pan American Health Organization and the International Air Transport Association.
UNICEF's role with COVAX stems from its status as the largest single vaccine buyer in the world.
It said it procures more than 2 billion doses of vaccines annually for routine immunisation and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries.
Drugmakers and research centres worldwide are racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines, with large global trials of several of the candidates involving tens of thousands of participants well underway.
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech could secure emergency US and European authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine next month after final trial results showed a 95% success rate and no serious side effects.
Moderna Inc last week released preliminary data for its vaccine showing 94.5% effectiveness.
The better-than-expected results from the two vaccines, both developed with new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, have raised hopes for an end to a pandemic that has killed more than 1.3 million people and wreaked havoc upon economies and daily life.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls; editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)