Nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be shipped and flown to developing countries next year in a "mammoth operation", the UN children's agency UNICEF said says, as world leaders vow to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines.
UNICEF says it is working with more than 350 airlines and freight companies to deliver vaccines and one billion syringes to poor countries such as Burundi, Afghanistan and Yemen as part of COVAX, a global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan with the World Health Organisation.
"This invaluable collaboration will go a long way to ensure that enough transport capacity is in place for this historic and mammoth operation," UNICEF Supply Division director Etleva Kadilli said.
COVAX - co-led by GAVI vaccine group, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations - aims to discourage governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most at risk in every country.
At the G20 summit this weekend, leaders of the biggest 20 world economies pledged to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests so poorer countries are not left out.
"We need all hands on deck as we get ready to deliver COVID-19 vaccine doses, syringes and more personal protective equipment to protect frontline workers around the globe," said UNICEF'S Kadilli, who is working with the Pan American Health Organization and the International Air Transport Association.
UNICEF's role with COVAX stems from its status as the largest single vaccine buyer in the world.
It said it procures more than two billion doses of vaccines annually for routine immunisation and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries.
Drug makers and research centres worldwide are racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines, with large global trials well underway.
Australian Associated Press