Is the cold chain there to distribute a Covid vaccine?

30 September 2020

The World Bank has announced plans for a $12bn initiative to support developing countries in purchasing Covid-19 vaccines. 

David Malpass, president of the World Bank, told a UN General Assembly meeting on Covid the bank aimed to make fast-track financing available to countries for the “purchase and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines” once they had been approved by regulatory agencies.

He said vaccines would be a “critical step” in the global economic recovery process following the outbreak. 

He said: “We’re working to expand our fast-track Covid programmes to include financing for the purchase and distribution of vaccines. Using grants, credits, and concessional funding, we will help prepare early to finance low and middle-income countries that don’t have access.”

However, concerns have been expressed over whether the global cold chain logistics sector is prepared for the challenge of distributing the vaccine.

Speaking to iNews, Philip Ashton, CEO of logistics advisory group 7Bridges, which is involved in the delivery of the Oxford Vaccine Group’s vaccine candidate, said he was not aware of the UK government checking everything was in place for a rollout. 

Ashton said: “We may not get the mass vaccination on the timeline we think. It is doable if the government commences the planning right now. We can expect frontline workers and high-risk populations to be vaccinated by the end of next year, but vaccinating the entire population is a real challenge.”

Ashton warned that even if the vaccines are ready by 2021, the UK does not have enough cold chain trucks to transport the vaccines as they would need to be kept at a controlled temperature of 2-8C in transit. 

The UK alone will need an estimated 120m doses for an initial vaccination of the general population, but experts have suggested each person could need a booster jab.

Ed Martinez, president of the UPS Foundation, reiterated the importance of a global cold chain ready to distribute the vaccine.

“The cold chain will need to be there...it's really going to boil down to that last mile, when it comes to distributing vaccines,” he said.

Malpass told The Guardian Covid-19 was having a much bigger impact on low and middle income countries than on the developed world.

He said: “Having this finance available will be a game changer because once a safe and effective vaccine is available it will allow people to resume their lives with confidence.”

The vaccine initiative is subject to approval from World Bank shareholders. 

The initiative builds on a commitment from the bank in April to deploy $160bn over 15 months to help countries respond to the pandemic and bolster economic recovery. 

Malpass told the UN the bank was “making good progress” on its target.

He added: “Countries will also need to prepare for a different economy post Covid, by allowing capital, labour, skills and innovation to move into new businesses and sectors.”

Earlier this month, Unicef announced it would be leading “the world’s largest and fastest ever procurement and supply of vaccines”, buying Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of 92 low-income countries. 

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