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UNICEF to transport up to 850 tonnes of Covax per month

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) could potentially transport up to 850 tonnes of Covid-19 vaccines per month in 2021, should such quantities become available, according to a new assessment published on Friday.

The assessment is part of UNICEF's work to lead on the procurement and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines for 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries on behalf of the COVAX Facility, an international initiative aimed at ensuring equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation, a UNICEF press release said.

"This is a mammoth and historic undertaking," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "The scale of the task is daunting, and the stakes have never been higher, but we are ready to take this on."

The UNICEF assessment looked at global airfreight capacity and transport routes to better understand the challenges of delivering Covid-19 vaccines in 2021. It found that commercial airlines will be able to deliver vaccines to almost all 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries, which are among the 190 economies participating in the COVAX Facility, at an estimated cost of up to $70 million, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Comparing vaccine volume estimates against commercial and cargo routes across the globe, the assessment also found that current air cargo capacity would be sufficient to make deliveries covering 20 per cent of the population for most of the 92 countries. Covid-19 vaccines are expected to be primarily shipped using existing passenger and cargo flight capacity, although charters or alternative transport options may still be needed for some small countries and others with access issues.

UNICEF is working with airlines and the wider logistics industry to prioritise the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.

A UNICEF meeting this week with more than 300 vaccine procurement experts globally, including government officials, looked at ways to procure and roll out Covid-19 vaccines and strengthen regulatory systems and supply chains.

Funding is critical. UNICEF has called for 410 million dollars to help countries with the delivery of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tools in 2021. Further, UNICEF estimates a funding gap of 133 million dollars to cover in-country vaccine logistics and the required cold chain equipment for the poorest 92 countries..