Africa prepares for distribution of COVID-19 vaccine


SCIENTISTS ARE launching a key study to help African nations prepare for the sustainable distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.

It has been predicted that mass, rapid COVID-19 vaccination will be an immense challenge for sub-Saharan Africa countries with significant rural populations.

Working with the United Nations Environment Program – United for Efficiency team, researchers from the University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, are undertaking a fast-track study in Rwanda to explore how vaccines are currently distributed in the country.


The study will also define gaps in infrastructure and develop strategies for sustainable COVID-19 vaccine delivery. 

The findings of the study will help governments, vaccine development agencies, pharma and logistics companies begin to plan for the future.

The programme will run alongside the work of experts from Birmingham and Heriot-Watt in India, where they are joining forces with non-profit, commercial and academic partners to begin investigating the scale of challenge involved in distributing a potentially temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccine. 


Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Universal vaccine access is already a major challenge in the Global South, but sub-Saharan Africa faces a daunting challenge. Cold-chain will be critical in rapidly transporting and delivering COVID-19 vaccines to all communities, particularly in rural areas where electricity supply and cooling infrastructure is often non-existent or unreliable.

“We likely have a 12-18 month window to engineer efficient, equitable, robust delivery mechanisms to support a pace and breadth of vaccination never before considered. Taking Rwanda as a pilot, the majority of its population lives in rural areas and has one of the lowest Gross National Incomes.


“We’ll create a rapid assessment method to enable such countries to understand available cooling infrastructure and create options for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and beyond.”

Dr Bing Xu, Associate Professor in Finance at Heriot Watt, University, commented: “This piece of work will prove hugely helpful in designing the right financing options. There is an urgent need to identify Rwanda’s financing gaps to ensure COVID-19 vaccines to be adequately prepared to store, transport, and deliver to their population. We also need to explore suitable financing channels to fund the mass vaccination without impacting country’s current immunisation programme.”