Health and Healthcare Systems

UNICEF calls on supply chain and transport industry to take COVID-19 vaccines to the world

Cool boxes are loaded as Air France-KLM's cargo operations prepare a massive logistical operation to distribute new COVID-19 vaccines, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, Netherlands, November 25, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Cool boxes are loaded as Air France-KLM's cargo operations prepare a massive logistical operation to distribute new COVID-19 vaccines, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, Netherlands, November 25, 2020. Image: REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Margi Van Gogh
Head, Supply Chain and Transportation Industry, World Economic Forum
Etleva Kadilli
Director, Supply Division, UNICEF
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  • UNICEF will play critical role in supporting the transport and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to low and lower middle-income countries on behalf of the COVAX Facility.
  • In 2021 UNICEF anticipates transporting 850 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccine per month, requiring an unprecedented collective effort by the supply chain and transport industry.
  • The Forum and UNICEF call on logistics firms with an international and local footprint to be part of the global collective vaccine distribution effort.

With the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continuing to spread despite the containment measures put in place by countries around the globe, the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is at a critical juncture. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is already visible: COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, with around 60 countries now actively vaccinating their citizens; and the first shipment of COVID-19 jabs under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative arrived in Ghana on February 24.

But for vaccines to be effective in containing the pandemic, they must be made widely available across the globe in a short space of time, which is putting increased pressure on governments, multilateral organizations, manufacturers, supply chain companies and community organizations.

The World Economic Forum has been supporting this immense global effort through its COVID Action Platform, engaging more than 1,200 organizations in over 40 projects and initiatives, which range from securing global supply chains and tackling mobility challenges during lockdowns, to increasing public confidence in vaccines. The Forum is also part of the ACT-Accelerator (ACT-A), one of only four non-state members of its governing body, the Facilitation Council.

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Today, much attention is on that aforementioned COVAX Facility, the Vaccines Pillar of ACT-A. COVAX has one major goal: to ensure participating countries have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of their income level. To quote UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore: “a vaccination race between nations can have no winners”.

UNICEF leads the procurement and delivery effort

Under COVAX, UNICEF is leading the procurement and delivery of quality-assured COVID-19 vaccines for 82 low and lower middle-income countries outside of the Americas, as well as supporting other countries in their procurement should they request this service.

To date, COVAX has secured 2 billion doses for more than 190 participating countries, with the idea that this number will be sufficient to vaccinate priority groups, such as teachers and health and social workers, by the end of 2021. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has already announced it expects the first doses under COVAX to arrive in countries in February.

However, challenges remain. Manufacturers have indicated that the bulk of their doses may not be available until the second half of this year. COVAX is facing a similar scenario with governments of high-income countries, some of whom are willing to release their excess doses to COVAX, but probably not until later this year.

Vaccines are just one piece of the puzzle: UNICEF also aims to deliver up to 1 billion syringes and 10 million safety boxes for their safe disposal in 2021.

Margi Van Gogh, Head of Supply Chain & Transport, World Economic Forum; Etleva Kadilli, Director, Supply Division, UNICEF

UNICEF has a critical role to play in supporting the transport and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and lower middle-income economies on behalf of the COVAX Facility. In 2021, UNICEF anticipates transporting up to 850 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccines per month. This mammoth operation will require an unprecedented logistics effort, with the many uncertainties and cold storage requirements posing real challenges.

Yet vaccines are just one piece of the puzzle. UNICEF also aims to deliver up to 1 billion syringes and 10 million safety boxes for their safe disposal in 2021, as well as continuing to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health workers administering the vaccines. With a current shortage in container equipment, significant challenges in sea-freight lie ahead. That is why UNICEF is calling on sea-freight carriers to prioritise shipments of COVAX syringes, safety boxes and PPE, as a matter of urgency.

Unprecedented collective effort required

This logistics operation will require an unprecedented collective effort by industry. In December 2020, the World Economic Forum and UNICEF signed a charter along with leading global logistics companies that are partners of the Forum’s Supply Chain & Transport Industry Action Group. Under the charter, they committed to collective action to support COVAX, with planning, preparedness and prioritised transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and supplies crucial to the vaccination drive. The signatories committed to supporting UNICEF’s Global Vaccine Logistics Distribution, with prioritisation and solutions for international and in-country distribution of vaccines and related supplies on behalf of COVAX.

So far, several of the signatories have stepped forward with concrete proposals for pro bono support, guided by a mapping of support needs carried out by UNICEF. These include secondments of specialist logistics personnel to support the Global Logistics Coordination Cell in Copenhagen, and operational assistance at regional and country levels, including supporting efforts on warehousing and cold chain infrastructure. UNICEF is now in discussions with these companies to turn these proposals into concrete action.

The World Economic Forum and UNICEF commend and thank those charter signatories who have come forward to support UNICEF in the COVID-19 vaccine response and encourage all signatories to maximise their support. But we need all hands on deck and we call on other private sector entities to join this collective global effort to share assets and expertise.


How has the Forum navigated the global response to COVID-19?

The global unity, mobilization, commitment and support for the COVAX Facility is truly a remarkable demonstration of what can be accomplished when governments, NGOs, the private sector and the UN work together towards a common goal. Because in the race to fight COVID-19 and vaccinate the world, “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.

We call on solidarity from all stakeholders to support equal access to vaccines in low- and lower-middle income countries so we can restore essential services for children and families, and build back better.

Logistics companies with an international and local footprint who are interested in being a part of the collective action for global vaccine distribution – by signing the World Economic Forum Supply Chain & Transport Industry Charter in support of UNICEF and COVAX Vaccine Distribution – should contact Jiten Vyakarnam (

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