United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), on Tuesday, sent 100,000 syringes and 1,000 safety boxes to Maldives by air freight from the agency's humanitarian warehouse in Dubai, as part of the first wave of syringe shipments intended to facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations around the world.
The Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) confirmed that the shipment was received.
Over the next few weeks, UNICEF will ship more than 14.5 million 0.5 ml and 0.3 ml auto-disable syringes to more than 30 countries.
While the 0.5 ml syringes are intended for use with the Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca vaccine, the 0.3 ml syringes are to be used with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Since both syringe sizes are of the auto-disable type, they cannot be used again after a single dose of vaccine has been administered, reducing the risk of infection from blood-borne diseases due to syringe re-use.
The countries that will receive syringes in this initial tranche, such as Côte d'Ivoire and São Tomé and Príncipe, are included in the COVAX indicative distribution and have requested to UNICEF to supply syringes.
These shipments will support COVID-19 vaccination programmes and are part of efforts initiated by the COVAX Facility to provide vaccines to all participating countries.
Maldives was listed among the 92 low and middle income countries eligible to access COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
The COVAX Facilty accepted Maldives' application to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the country's population in December. HEOC previously estimated that the vaccine doses acquired through COVAX would arrive in mid-February.
Aiming to ensure rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, the COVAX AMC will partially cover the cost of vaccine procurement for the 92 countries, which include all economies with Gross National Income (GNI) per capita figures below USD 4,000 and other countries that qualify for assistance from World Bank International Development Association (IDA).
Co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), COVAX has a target to procure and deliver two billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021. This is intended to cover 20 percent of the populations of each participating country.
Overall, UNICEF will supply up to a billion syringes and 10 million safety boxes to countries in 2021 to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts worldwide. UNICEF has created a stockpile of almost half a billion syringes at its warehouses located in Copenhagen and Dubai in preparation for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in 82 low- and lower middle-income countries across the world.
"In this global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, syringes are as vital as the vaccine itself", said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
"It is critical to have adequate supplies of syringes already in place in every country before the vaccine arrives so that the vaccine can be administered safely. This would allow immunization to start immediately and help turn the tide on this terrible virus".
UNICEF is cooperating with airlines, logistics operators and freight forwarders to ensure that the syringes are treated as priority freight. Although initial shipments will be transported by air, the majority of the syringes and accompanying safety boxes will be transported through sea routes due to their bulk.
Throughout 2021, UNICEF aims to make 2 billion COVID-19 doses available for delivery. Even prior to COVID-19, UNICEF was the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, procuring over 2 billion vaccines annually as part of efforts to immunize half of the world’s children below the age of five. UNICEF also procures and supplies between 600 and 800 million syringes for regular immunisation programmes annually.
Maldives officially commenced its vaccine roll-out on February 1 after receiving the initial donation of 100,000 doses of the COVISHIELD vaccine from the Indian government. An additional donation of 100,000 doses was granted on February 20.
At present, the island nation records a total of 19,038 virus cases of which 2,429 are active cases, in addition to 16,542 recoveries and 60 deaths.
On March 12, 2020, WHO classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. To date, the new strain of novel coronavirus has infected over 112.6 million people and claimed over 2.4 million lives around the world. However, out of those infected, more than 88.2 million people have recovered.