UN official: Distributing Covid-19 vaccine a question of planning

By Mario Villar

United Nations, Nov 27 (efe-epa).- Distributing a coronavirus vaccine will pose a major logistical challenge, but it is one the world can handle given adequate planning, the head of transportation for the United Nations Children’s Fund told Efe Friday.

“I believe we have to remain optimists,” Pablo Panadero said via video-conference from Copenhagen, where the Unicef Supply Center is located. “We are working 24 hours a day to improve the preparation.”

Unicef is in contact with transportation and logistics firms and governments in nearly 100 low- and middle-income nations to ensure that the eventual Covid-19 vaccine reaches those people.

The global death toll from coronavirus stands at 1.44 million, while the number of confirmed cases has topped 61 million.

Several Covid-19 vaccine candidates have shown promising results in clinical trials and are expected to enter general use in the first quarter of 2021.

In a typical year, the UN agency is involved in roughly 50 percent of all child vaccinations around the world.

The structures needed to carry out a campaign of mass immunization against coronavirus already exist, according to Panadero, who sees the immediate task as strengthening those structures and identifying possible problems in advance.

“Obviously supplying the Covid vaccine will represent a challenge for those systems, because it will expand the volume of vaccines that have to be moved. That means we have to supply the Covid vaccine as well as all the (other) vaccines we are supplying and those that governments and health ministries manage on a regular basis,” the Spaniard said.

The overall reduction in flights due to the pandemic should not be an issue when it comes to transporting the coronavirus vaccine.

“At the global level, the supply of vaccines represents a relatively limited part of cargo,” Panadero said, adding that even a tripling of vaccine shipments would not overwhelm the capacity of the air cargo industry.

Unicef has set a goal of supplying Covid-19 vaccine to 20 percent of the population in 92 countries set to receive assistance from the Gavi Covid-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment.

Observers have already pointed to a potential snag in distributing the vaccine to those nations.

One of the promising vaccine candidates, developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, must be maintained at the super-low temperature of minus 70C (minus 94F).

“We have experience with vaccines that require a normal cold chain, of 2-8 (C). The health systems are ready to handle that,” Panadero said, adding that Unicef and a number of countries can deal with drugs such as the polio vaccine, which must be kept at minus 20 C.

“If we go to minus 70, this is a challenge. There are only a few countries, those that have handled the experimental Ebola vaccine, that have experience, but the volumes are much lower than what is anticipated for the Covid vaccine,” he said.

Against that background, Unicef is consulting with governments on whether it makes more sense for nations with limited resources to opt exclusively for vaccines that don’t have such demanding requirements.

Another company whose formula has produced encouraging results in clinical trials, Moderna, says that its vaccine can be transported and stored at “the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator.” EFE mvs/dr

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