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.”