COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution: Fast Facts

After the development of COVID-19 vaccines brought a moment of relief, many nonprofit leaders shifted to the next phase of their pandemic response: equitable distribution of the vaccines. Learn how you can support vaccine distribution in hard-to-reach communities around the world.


1. A global initiative aims to deliver COVID-19 vaccines equitably.

COVAX, the initiative working to ensure equitable vaccine distribution globally, announced agreements to access nearly 2 billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates in December. The hope was that all 190 countries and territories participating in the initiative would have access to the vaccines for at-risk groups in the first half of 2021.

Despite the effort, a clear divide has emerged in who has early access to coronavirus vaccines. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines “wildly uneven and unfair.” He told a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council recently that 130 countries had not yet received a single dose of vaccine. More than three-quarters of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been deployed in only 10 countries.
Source: Reuters + The New Humanitarian + The Guardian

“As wealthier countries buy up early vaccine supplies and drive up prices, I remain concerned about mobilizing the resources necessary to reach people in low- and middle-income countries.” — Sandrina da Cruz, Senior Manager of Disaster Response at GlobalGiving

2. Seven vaccines are now available for public use.

The stakes for quickly and safely distributing COVID-19 vaccines remain high. A total of seven vaccines are now available for public use, in limited quantities, in at least 82 countries.

Each vaccine comes with its own challenges and advantages. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has a high effectiveness rate but must stay at −90°F (−70°C), far colder than a freezer, and then be thawed before use. China’s and Russia’s vaccines use inactivated viruses and can therefore be stored using standard refrigeration temperatures. However, this type of vaccine takes longer to produce than the mRNA versions. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is more travel-friendly but has a lower efficacy rate.

Regardless of the maker, successfully distributing COVID-19 vaccines requires tremendous collaboration among governments, medical suppliers, health care facilities, and nonprofit organizations.
Source: Bloomberg + The Washington Post

3. Vaccine distribution is off to a rocky start.

The excitement about vaccines ending all of our pandemic woes has been replaced by confusion, frustration, and delays for many around the world. More than 186 million doses have been administered in 82 countries, yet problems have persisted.

Distribution delays, slow vaccine production times, and logistical mishaps caused by the lack of central planning have been reported around the world. Red flags have also been raised regarding the equity of distribution decisions. Of all the doses administered, more than half were given in the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. As Israel and the United Arab Emirates lead the way in vaccines administered per 100 people, other countries struggle to secure enough vaccines to inoculate even a small portion of their population.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, expressed fear that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they highlight inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots. At a WHO conference in January, Tedros described the vaccine as a literal and figurative “shot in the arm,” stating that “just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25.” At that time, 39 million doses had been administered in nearly 50 higher-income countries.
Source: Bloomberg + UN News

4. Refugees and migrants might be waiting longer for the vaccines.

Refugee camps often have crowded spaces that make social distancing nearly impossible and limited clean water and soap—conditions that help spread COVID-19. Yet, of the 133 countries which the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has information on, only 54 have included explicit provisions in their finalized vaccination plans to cover populations such as refugees, asylum seekers, and people who are stateless or internally displaced.
Source: U.S. GLC + NCBI + The Washington Post

“Equitable vaccine distribution must be inclusive of the individuals and families living in precarious conditions across refugee camps. For the health and safety of everyone, host communities and refugees need to have equal access to vaccine stocks,” Sandrina said.

Nonprofits like International Medical Corps (IMC) are supporting vaccination efforts in refugee camps in Jordan, including at Azraq refugee camp, where IMC is the main health care provider. IMC will also help South Sudan implement a vaccine program by addressing the major need to increase coordination and communication between the capital of Juba and remote states.

5. Vaccine skepticism could lower immunization rates.

Although concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccines is low globally, some countries have high levels of vaccine skepticism. Between 10-22% of people across Europe don’t believe that vaccines are safe. On the other hand, most people in Bangladesh and Rwanda think vaccines are safe and effective. In the United States, political partisanship has influenced opinions about COVID-19, and skepticism about the vaccines is particularly high.

Many experts and community leaders are concerned that Black Americans, who have been historically discriminated against and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, may not trust the medical establishment and won’t get vaccinated. Less than half (42%) of Black respondents said they would commit to getting a vaccine in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
Source: Politico + The Washington Post + Pew Research Center

“It inevitably comes down to trust. To reach the last mile, to reach those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and located in the hardest-to-reach areas will take more than the right equipment and resources,” Sandrina said. “It will also require overcoming the mistrust borne out of lived experiences under structurally discriminatory systems.”

6. Vaccine distribution requires investment worldwide.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs ultracold storage across the supply chain, which will cost pharmacies and doctor’s offices upwards of $15,000 for an ultracold freezer alone. Medical supply nonprofits can help governments distribute the fragile vaccines to hard-to-reach areas and store them once they get there, but major investments are needed.

Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe said the organization’s ongoing humanitarian activities delivering insulin, vaccines, and cancer medications to people in resource-strapped areas and following natural disasters made them aware of the barriers and often preventable tragedies caused by inadequate cold-chain capacity.
Source: ScienceMag

7. Nonprofits will play a crucial role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

For countries with limited infrastructure and rough terrain, delivering mass quantities of fragile vaccines is no easy task. Governments will need to coordinate with local leaders and nonprofit medical suppliers to make it happen.

“We will work with health ministries and local bodies to develop vaccination planning, supply PPE, identify logistics needs and resources, and provide infrastructure support via storage, warehousing, and cold-chain access to facilitate last-mile delivery to remote populations,” Javed Ali, Director of Emergency Response at International Medical Corps, said.

Governments in many countries recognize that nonprofits have networks that will help them distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

“Nonprofits leaders have profound knowledge of the local context where they work. They have built strong relationships and earned their communities’ trust,” Sandrina said.

8. GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund will support COVID-19 vaccine distribution in communities around the world.

Since last March, GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund has helped fill critical gaps in COVID-19 response worldwide. The fund has fueled nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines of the pandemic distributing lifesaving medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, delivering meals to families during lockdowns, or meeting their communities’ needs in other ways. GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund will continue to support distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to people around the world.
Source: GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund

Help COVID-19 vaccines reach all countries and communities by donating to GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.


Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 30, 2020 and last updated on Feb. 18, 2021.

Featured Photo: COVID-19 Emergency Response by Health in Harmony

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