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: the equitable distribution of COVID-19 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, recently announced agreements to access nearly 2 billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates. That means all 190 countries and territories participating in the initiative should have access to vaccines for at-risk groups in the first half of 2021. Despite the plans for equitable vaccine distribution, some experts remain skeptical.

“While the COVAX initiative is promising for many, I remain concerned about mobilizing the resources necessary for approved COVID-19 vaccines to reach people in poor and middle-income countries, as well as the amount of time it’ll take for them to be disseminated to stem the spread of the virus,” Sandrina da Cruz, Senior Manager of Disaster Response at GlobalGiving said.

Even with COVAX, vaccine deliveries will depend on regulatory approvals and country readiness. The World Health Organization has advised countries in Latin America to develop immunization plans focused on health workers and the elderly. Meanwhile, some high-income countries like the United States and Britain are reserving more vaccines than they have residents in anticipation of logistical mishaps.
Source: KKF News + Reuters + The New York Times

2. Distributing the vaccine will not be easy.

As the global death toll continues to rise, the stakes for quickly and safely distributing COVID-19 vaccines are high. The three U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines use an incredible novel technology: messenger RNA, or mRNA, which delivers genetic information to help the immune system fight the virus. But the vaccines degrade rapidly at room temperature and require doses to be frozen for transportation, then thawed for use.

The Pfizer vaccine must stay at −90°F (−70°C), far colder than a household freezer. Moderna’s vaccine is slightly more travel-friendly, but each comes with its own challenges and advantages. Regardless of the maker, successful distribution will require tremendous collaboration among governments, medical suppliers, health care facilities, and nonprofit organizations.
Source: Nature + Stat News

3. Equitable vaccine distribution requires investments worldwide.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines need 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.

GlobalGiving’s longstanding partner Direct Relief is approaching this massive undertaking with years of experience distributing medical supplies under their belt. The organization was among the top medical suppliers to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, West Africa during the Ebola epidemic, and now, Direct Relief plans to do the same for COVID-19 vaccines.

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.

“That’s why strengthening [cold-chain capacity] has been a top organizational priority for several years—and we’ve intensified to help the COVID-19 vaccine reach everyone, including those already in the toughest of circumstances.” — Thomas Tighe, President and CEO of Direct Relief

Direct Relief has committed $2.5 million to expand their medical refrigeration and freezer capacity, which will prepare them to help public health authorities distribute vaccines globally.
Source: ScienceMag

4. Refugee camps are unlikely to make the vaccine priority list.

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, experts fear that countries will prioritize their citizens and neglect people in these communities and other asylum seekers, refugees, and foreign-born migrants living within their borders.
Source: U.S. GLC + NCBI

“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 da Cruz, Senior Manager of Disaster Response at GlobalGiving

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 the vaccine in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
Source: Politico + 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. Nonprofits will play a crucial role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

For countries with limited infrastructure and rough terrain, delivering mass quantities of a fragile vaccine is no easy task. Governments will need to work with local leaders and nonprofit medical suppliers to make it happen. One of those nonprofits is GlobalGiving partner International Medical Corps. At the beginning of the pandemic, the organization employed a multi-faceted plan to ensure at-risk countries could prevent and respond to coronavirus outbreaks. Now, they are adding another element to their plan: help distribute billions of vaccines as quickly and safely as possible.

“Once the countries we work with have established national vaccine rollout plans, 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 (IMC) said.

Ali said as vaccination campaigns expand, IMC will remain flexible so they can address the most pressing needs—including deploying additional surge staff to hospitals and health facilities.

“In the meantime, based on anticipated needs, we are training our staff on stock and cold-chain management, and have created a global coordination committee to develop resources, training material and last-mile tools to support upcoming vaccination campaigns,” he 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.

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

Since 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 lower-income countries and hard-to-reach communities 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.


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

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