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By Andrea Andres
19 April 2023

Over the years, vaccines have played a crucial role in improving the health of children by eradicating diseases such as smallpox and significantly reducing the occurrence of others like polio. 

But there is still much to be done. UNICEF remains steadfast in ensuring that every child has access to the vaccines they require to maintain good health. 

24 March marks the start of World Immunisation Week, and to celebrate, we're taking you on the journey to see how a life-saving vaccine makes its way to vulnerable children, starting with your generosity.  

The stages of a vaccine delivery 

Every donation counts! 

Four fundraisers completing sit ups on a balcony.
Fundraisers taking part in the UNICEF Sit Up Challenge
© UNICEF Australia/2022/Labade

From emergency relief to long-term development solutions, all our work is funded by the generosity of businesses, foundations, governments, and individuals like you.  

Through fundraisers and donations, your support allows us to reach even the most remote and vulnerable communities worldwide with essential vaccines. 

Buying the vaccines 

Healthcare workers inspecting a shipment of vaccines.
A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines is registered before being loaded on a plane bound for eastern Mali.
© UNICEF/ UN0805484 /Diabeté /WHO

UNICEF is the largest buyer of vaccines in the world. With its partners, UNICEF vaccinates almost half the world's children under five, every year.

We have direct relationships with vaccine manufacturers, meaning we can purchase vaccines at the best prices for the world’s most vulnerable.  

The cold chain 

An air traffic controller signalling in front of a plane.
A marshaller signals a plane carrying a shipment of 864,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in Uganda.
© UNICEF/UN0426528/Musinguzi

Distributing vaccines worldwide requires a complex yet precisely coordinated series of steps that make up the "cold chain." This ensures the vaccines are stored, handled, and transported in temperature-regulated conditions to maintain their potency. 

Vaccines are sent directly by plane from the manufacturer as refrigerated cargo to the country where they will be used.  

UNICEF procured almost US$205 million worth of cold chain equipment and services in 2021. We work closely with partners and governments to ensure the cold chain works effectively and efficiently in every country where we deliver vaccines to children. 

Quality control  

A female logistician inspects a vaccine vial.
Aarati, a UNICEF Cold Chain Logistician, arranges supplies of the typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV) inside a vaccine cold store in Nepal.
© UNICEF/U.S. CDC/UN0666596/Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi

Our teams then check the vaccines to ensure they have been protected and kept at the right temperature en route.  

Compliance with performance standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) is mandatory for storage and transportation equipment, including refrigerators, cold rooms, cold boxes, freezers, and vaccine carriers. In addition, stock management procedures for each type of vaccine must adhere to WHO guidelines. 

Until the vaccines are ready to be taken to health centres, they will be stored and monitored in cold rooms.  

Our delivery heroes 

Two nurses cross a small bridge carrying medical supplies.
Two nurses cross a bridge to the remote village of Mansunthu in Sierra Leone to conduct a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
© UNICEF and WHO/ UN0766662 /Michael Duff/2022

It's crucial to understand that there's no going back once the vaccine loses its potency. Our team of delivery heroes must ensure that every step of the cold chain is meticulously executed to ensure the vaccines can do their job and save lives. 

Dedicated UNICEF teams carry vaccines in cold boxes, travelling by car, motorcycle, bicycle, donkey, boat, camel or on foot to reach even the most remote places. Recently, drones have even been used to deliver vaccines to remote villages in Vanuatu, where the only to get around is on foot or by small ‘banana’ boats.  

Life-saving protection 

A child receives polio drops in its mouth.
A child receives polio drops during the house-to-house polio campaign.
© UNICEF/ UN0822663 / Mojtba Moawia Mahmoud

Once the vaccines have reached their destination, they are delivered by trained health staff and professionals. 

But that's not all it takes to ensure that these crucial vaccines are accessible to those who need them most. Our ongoing efforts to strengthen health systems and increase awareness about the importance of vaccination play a crucial role in making sure that vaccines are available to everyone who needs them. 

And it can only be possible with you! 

For every child, vaccination  

It is crucial, more than ever, that children everywhere can receive life-saving vaccines. Yet, in UNICEF's latest The State of the World’s Children 2023: For Every Child, Vaccination report, public perception of the importance of vaccines for children declined during the COVID-19 pandemic in 52 out of 55 countries studied. 

Sadly, a staggering 67 million children missed out on one or more vaccinations between 2019 and 2021 due to service disruption caused by strained health systems and diversion of scarce resources, conflict and decreased confidence. 

Vaccinating the world’s children against diseases is no easy task. UNICEF has the expertise and the experience, but we cannot do it alone. We need your help to build a world where every child is protected against deadly diseases.  

Vaccinate Children. Save Lives.

Protect children against preventable diseases with lifesaving vaccines by donating today.