It is hard to believe that we are coming up on a year of the battle against COVID-19. And 53 million cases later, we are starting to see promising results from one of many vaccines in the race – a Pfizer experimental vaccine shown to be 90 percent effective.
So now, the world’s attention has shifted to preparing for future vaccines – including the huge undertaking to make them available. As Bill Gates laid out in a recent article “the world first needs three things: the capacity to produce billions of vaccine doses, the funding to pay for them, and the systems to deliver them.”
These “systems to deliver” are something we’ve got covered. VillageReach started 20 years ago to transform how vaccines reach communities at the last mile. In this time, we have built regional capabilities in logistics, cold chain, data systems and health workforce capacity to ensure governments meet this challenge.
And we know it will be a challenge. Pfizer’s announcement provides more concrete information about the dosage, cold chain needs and packaging of one vaccine candidate. But when and if this particular candidate will reach low- and middle-income countries is still to be determined. Regardless, our teams across the globe are drawing on the lessons from other new vaccine introductions, and making plans now to ensure that the billions of dollars in research for a coronavirus vaccine translates to products arriving to people as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This takes well-orchestrated collaborations and collective action. Together, we are taking global distribution scenarios and cost estimates, and localizing those so that governments are preparing and planning for the most likely candidate well before it arrives. Countries need to think about an efficient and safe supply chain for the vaccine itself, as well as a supply of syringes, gloves, and other protective equipment to run massive vaccination campaigns. Technology, such as OpenLMIS, will support the increased inventory that will need to go managed.
Although vaccine introductions are not new, many immunization programs are focused on children and pregnant women – while the COVID-19 vaccine will first focus on health workers and vulnerable populations. Countries will need to make sure medical record systems are ready to help track who has received the vaccine, and to target those who have not, but should. Our expertise with electronic immunizations registries will become that much more important. Communication systems like Health Center by Phone will provide information to health workers and to communities about the vaccine, the dosing, who is eligible and where to go to be vaccinated. We will also need to work directly with community-based partners and health workers to overcome significant vaccine hesitancy, as is the case with any new vaccine. And we’ll need to monitor for vaccine safety and any adverse effects or impacts from vaccination.
This is the work of delivery, and the solutions that VillageReach has co-developed with governments and our partners will address these exact challenges. These solutions ensure that every person – no matter where they live – has access to the medicines, supplies, and information they need. Although the task ahead is daunting, we have spent 20 years preparing for this. Now, more than ever, we are ready for this mission.