Overcoming vaccine delivery challenges

Men unloading boxes marked with 'COVAX' (© UNICEF/Sujan)
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided Bangladesh 18 freezer trucks for safe transport of COVID-19 vaccines, like these Pfizer-BioNTech doses arriving at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka May 31. (© UNICEF/Sujan)

The United States is committed to being the world’s arsenal of vaccines. The U.S. has already donated 300 million vaccine doses worldwide. But delivering to remote communities is no easy task. Some vaccine doses must be kept near or below freezing — even when crossing mountains in Nepal and lakes in Uganda or journeying up rivers in Peru.

“The vaccines need to travel along our rivers,” Dr. Carlos Calampa, health director for Peru’s Loreto region, told UNICEF, a U.S. partner organization. “The distances are long, and the cold chain cannot be broken.”

On December 6, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new Global Vaccine Access (Global VAX) initiative to support cold storage and other challenges in the global COVID-19 vaccine delivery campaign.

USAID will provide $400 million to accelerate vaccinations around the world and deliver other emergency resources to save lives now. The initiative especially emphasizes delivering vaccines in Africa.

“To date, the U.S. Government has responded in more than 120 countries to assist in the fight against COVID-19,” according to a December 6 USAID statement. “With the announcement of Global VAX, the United States will accelerate its efforts to vaccinate the world and save lives.”

The United States has pledged to donate more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world. Donations come with no strings attached and most doses are delivered through COVAX, the international partnership dedicated to equitably distributing vaccines.

Through the new Global VAX initiative, USAID will invest:

  • $315 million in overcoming cold-chain, human resource, vaccine hesitancy and other challenges.
  • $10 million to help countries manufacture vaccines themselves, supporting new regulation and training.
  • $75 million for USAID’s rapid response surge support, which provides oxygen and other crucial medical assistance to COVID-19 hot spots.

With the Global VAX funding, the United States has committed more than $1.6 billion to support vaccine delivery efforts and vaccine supply chains around the world.

For example, the U.S. and partners have provided cold-chain vaccine storage equipment to numerous countries:

  • The U.S. Defense Department donated 300 ultra-low temperature freezers to Peru.
  • The U.S. military donated 200 vaccine refrigerators to 114 public hospitals and clinics in Thailand.
  • The U.S. military delivered 13 cold-storage units to hospitals in the Philippines.
  • USAID donated 18 freezer trucks to Bangladesh to move millions of U.S.-donated vaccines.
  • UNICEF donated more than 200 ultra-cold chain freezers to 24 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

These donations help countries get vaccine doses to isolated communities, Calampa, the health director in Loreto, Peru, told UNICEF. The U.N. charity helped deliver 1,100 solar-powered freezers to Peru. “These freezers will allow us to have a stable supply of ice to be able to continue vaccinating people along the different river basins,” Calampa said.