A historic batch of COVID-19 vaccinations arrived in Ghana one year ago. This was the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in Ghana through the COVAX initiative, a groundbreaking global collaboration dedicated to the development, production, and equitable distribution worldwide of vaccines.
Nana Akufo–Addo, Ghana’s president, was stunned when the first shots were delivered to Ghanaians. He said that it had cost lives, damaged livelihoods, and battered the health system. “But, despite these challenges, I have witnessed the best of humanity through strong multilateral collaboration.”
Multilateral cooperation has made COVAX the most important vaccine supply operation. The effort was unprecedented, from traversing difficult terrain to reach remote villages in Nepal to vaccination of elderly populations in Peru.
Artemio Baldoceda (83), was among those who received the vaccine through COVAX in Peru. There was one thing that Artemio Baldoceda was conscious of when he learned he was getting the shot.
“When I can hold my grandchildren close, that moment will be wonderful.”
More than a million doses of COVID-19 have been distributed in 140 countries since COVAX’s launch. This initiative will deliver COVID-19 vaccines to reduce the devastating loss of life and help bring the pandemic under control.
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COVAX is committed to global vaccine equity. Deliveries to low-income countries have increased steadily since 2021. To mitigate the economic and public health effects of the pandemic, it is essential to protect those most at-risk and the health care workers in these areas.
One year after the first vaccines were delivered, there are still hurdles. These obstacles prevent countries from delivering vaccines quickly and efficiently. It’s important that they are acknowledged as we celebrate this anniversary.
Focus on the supply chain
What is the problem?
It is vital that low-income countries not only receive vaccines but also have the financial resources to purchase the tools necessary to get the doses into the arms. Consider all the syringes that you will need. Transport is required. The ultra-cold chains freezers that keep the vaccines. The funds to pay healthcare workers. Sometimes, these financial resources were not available.
There’s also the problem of vaccine waste. While wastage is to be expected in any vaccination campaign, there are some things you can do to reduce its impact. COVAX acts as a clearinghouse, distributing generous doses to countries who can use them. Doses that are given too soon before expiration can result in unintentional loss. Because the countries that receive the doses must have enough time to arrange the logistics necessary to transport them to their respective arms, this can lead to unintentional waste.
What are some solutions?
It is important that countries that are contributing vaccines have at least 10 weeks shelf life. This will help to limit waste and reduce the need for doses. This allows for the logistics and resources needed to roll-out the vaccines in the most need communities.
Some countries are more prepared than others to receive and administer vaccines at specific times. It is important that countries donating vaccines avoid allocating doses to certain countries. COVAX has the ability to allocate vaccines based upon how well prepared a country at that time.
The efficient and effective distribution of vaccines is crucial to saving lives, fighting the pandemic, and getting children back in school. As we have said, vaccines are only one aspect of the challenge. A healthcare worker is required to get the dose into someone’s arm. Cold storage is required. You will also need the necessary syringes, and protective equipment. It requires a whole health system.
Improved health systems
We have already discussed the important supply and procurement issues that must be addressed by 2022 in order to ensure that vaccines reach their intended destinations. However, getting COVID-19 vaccinations to low-income people doesn’t mean just sending the vaccines. You will need:
There are more qualified healthcare workers than ever to administer vaccines, such as nurses and doctors.
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A communication campaign that effectively informs people about the vaccine, its safety and why it is so important to them and their communities
Cold storage is used to transport these temperature sensitive products to remote areas and to dispose of the syringes safely after each dose.
There are more vaccination sites, particularly in rural areas, and there are also pop-up vaccination stations in places like bus stations and markets.
The robust electronic health records make it easy to determine which communities have high and low vaccination rates in order to help inform roll-out plans.
To strengthen the health system and include those resources as well as that technology, it will require significant financial investment. It is crucial that international financial institutions and donors provide funding that is flexible and long-term sustainable so it does not burden governments. It is also important that funding for pandemics doesn’t take resources away from essential healthcare services.
It was clear from the pandemic that better health systems are essential to prevent future pandemics and get everyone vaccinated.
This is a critical moment. This is a moment when we can recognize the importance of investing in fair and sustainable health systems. We have the opportunity to improve the health of more families and children than ever before.