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First wave of COVID-19 vaccine syringes start journey to Maldives

23 February 2021 - The critical task of ensuring that all countries have enough medical equipment to vaccinate people safely against COVID-19 gathered pace on Tuesday, with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) announcing that 100,000 syringes have been sent to the Maldives, ahead of an inoculation drive there.

The shipment is part of "the first wave" of syringes and safety boxes organised by the agency, which over the next few weeks, plans to dispatch more than 14.5 million single-use needles to more than 30 countries, including Côte d'Ivoire and São Tomé and Principe.

These include the 0.5 millilitre syringes which are meant for use with the AstraZeneca vaccine, while the 0.3 millilitre version is for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

One billion jabs

In total, UNICEF aims to supply up to one billion syringes and 10 million safety boxes to countries in 2021, ahead of the broader rollout of new coronavirus vaccines in 82 low and low-to-middle income countries.

"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."

Oxygen shortage hits 500,000

In a further update on lifesaving coronavirus supplies, the UN is warning that COVID-19 has left more than half a million people around the world without enough oxygen canisters to help them breathe more easily while fighting the infection.

According to the UN-launched international drug purchasing facility, UNITAID, demand in low and middle-income countries has spiked because of the virus - although the problem pre-dates the coronavirus because of cost and logistical barriers.

To respond to the emergency, a COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce has been launched to supply oxygen in up to 20 countries, including Malawi, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

It's part of the UN and partner-led COVAX initiative to protect people from COVID-19 worldwide and it needs $1.6 billion in funding over the next 12 months.

UNITAID spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel, said that since the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge, in low and middle income countries, "while COVID-19 has put huge pressure on health systems, with hospitals in many low and middle-income countries running out of oxygen, resulting in preventable deaths."

Mr. Verhoosel said that 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen are needed every day, while 25 countries have reported surging demand, the majority of which are in Africa.

Call to smooth access for vaccine distribution

The UN civil aviation organization ICAO, and the World Customs Organization (WCO), published a joint statement on Tuesday, calling on governments to demonstrate "maximum flexibility with respect to border clearance" and the air transport supply chain operations which are essential to the effective distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and related medical supplies.

The two agencies have also developed new guidelines to help countries achieve better alignment of their customs and security procedures.

Signed by ICAO Secretary General, Fang Liu and WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, the joint statement on vaccines urges the rapid establishment of the infrastructure needed to support end-to-end vaccine storage and logistics for public supplies.

Improved open collaboration between aviation and customs authorities and partnering organizations, is also strongly emphasized in the statement. The agencies are also encouraging countries to designate required aviation staff as "key workers" providing an essential service, in alignment with the WHO's Roadmap for Prioritizing Uses of COVID-19 Vaccines.

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