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UNICEF is stockpiling syringes ahead of a COVID-19 vaccine

UNICEF is stockpiling syringes ahead of a COVID-19 vaccine
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The United Nations children's agency UNICEF is stockpiling hundreds of millions of syringes in anticipation of a coronavirus vaccine to make sure there is enough global supply, the organization announced Monday.

UNICEF said initially it will stockpile 520 million syringes in its warehouses, part of a larger plan to have 1 billion syringes by 2021. The goal is to guarantee initial supply and help ensure that syringes arrive in countries before the COVID-19 vaccine does.

Besides syringes, UNICEF said it is also buying 5 million safety boxes so that used syringes and needles can be disposed of in a safe manner by personnel at health facilities. 

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UNICEF said it is “bundling” the syringes with safety boxes to ensure enough safety boxes are available to go along with the syringes. Every safety box carries 100 syringes. 

The effort will be reimbursed by the nonprofit Gavi Vaccine Alliance, and the syringes will be used for the Gavi-funded Covax Initiative. 

The goal of Covax is to place orders for multiple promising vaccine candidates with the aim of distributing successful ones equitably, comprising more than 180 countries. The U.S. has publicly rejected participating.

UNICEF is the largest vaccine buyer in the world and said it is working with the World Health Organization as well as manufacturers on the storage and distribution logistics of COVID-19 vaccines for 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries.

The agency normally works on childhood immunizations in low-income countries but has shifted its focus to broader vaccination efforts against COVID-19. 

“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,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

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The organization also said it is helping to map out existing cold chain equipment and storage capacity. While there is no coronavirus vaccine yet, almost every vaccine needs constant sterile refrigeration, which can be a problem in many developing countries.

Even in developed countries, temperature will likely be a hurdle. One of the leading candidates, manufactured by Pfizer, requires ultra-cold storage

Without access to cold storage, people in developing countries would likely be some of the last to emerge from the global COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF said it has made progress upgrading existing cold chain equipment across health facilities, mostly in Africa, but there are still cracks in the system that need to be solved.