UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said it will be leading procurement and supply of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure that all countries have safe, fast and equitable access to initial doses when they are available.
The vaccine procurement and distribution effort, involving over 170 economies, could possibly be the world’s largest and fastest ever operation of its kind.
“This is an all-hands on deck partnership between governments, manufacturers and multilateral partners to continue the high-stakes fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
“In our collective pursuit of a vaccine, UNICEF is leveraging its unique strengths in vaccine supply to make sure that all countries have safe, fast and equitable access to the initial doses when they are available.”
UNICEF is the world’s largest single vaccine buyer, procuring more than 2 billion doses of various vaccines annually for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries.
On behalf of COVAX Facility
UNICEF, in collaboration with the Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), will lead efforts to procure and supply doses of COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility for 92 low- and lower middle-income countries whose vaccine purchases will be supported by the mechanism.
In addition, UNICEF will also serve as procurement coordinator to support purchases by 80 higher-income economies, which have expressed their intent to participate in the COVAX Facility and would finance the vaccines from their own budgets, the UN agency said in a news release on Friday.
UNICEF will undertake these efforts in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), PAHO, World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other partners.
The COVAX Facility is open to all countries to ensure that no country is left without access to a future COVID-19 vaccine, according to UN News.
Market assessment and next step
Some 28 manufacturers have shared their annual production plans for COVID-19 vaccines –through 2023 – with UNICEF, which in a market assessment said the drug makers are willing to collectively produce “unprecedented quantities” of vaccines over the coming 1-2 years.
However, manufacturers signalled that investments to support such large-scale production of doses would be highly dependent on, among other things, whether clinical trials are successful, advance purchase agreements are put in place, funding is confirmed, and regulatory and registration pathways are streamlined.
A key next step, UNICEF said, will be ensuring self-financing economies sign up for the COVAX Facility by 18 September, which will allow COVAX to support early, at-risk investments in increasing manufacturing capacity on a broad scale.
“UNICEF has been critical partner in Gavi’s success over the last two decades,” said Gavi’s Chief Executive Officer Seth Berkley.
Over the 20 years, Gavi has reached over 760 million children with life-saving vaccines, preventing more than 13 million deaths.
“Together we can work to end the acute stage of this pandemic, including its devastating impact on individuals, communities, and economies,” added Dr. Berkley.
Vaccines for all
The COVAX Global Vaccines Facility is the vaccine pillar of the ACT-Accelerator, an initiative launched in April to speed up development of medicines to treat COVID-19 and make them available to people everywhere.
It is operated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; CEPI, and WHO, alongside multinational and developing country vaccine manufacturers.
The Facility works to ensure as many countries as possible cooperate to pool development, procurement and allocation of any COVID-19 vaccines.
UNICEF, Gavi, WHO, and PAHO have started critical preparatory work for country vaccine readiness in collaboration with partners and national governments including:
Working with device manufacturers to plan availability of safe injection equipment and cold chain requirements for the vaccine;
Developing guidance with WHO and trainings to support vaccination policies and appropriate handling, store and distribution of the vaccines;
Working with manufacturers on freight and logistics solutions to get vaccine doses to countries as quickly and safely as possible once they are allocated;
Supporting countries in planning for vaccine delivery, including targeting those most at risk and transport and storage at point of service delivery;
Ramping up efforts with civil society and other local partners to ensure that people are well-informed about the COVID-19 vaccination process and putting measures in place to enhance trust and tackle misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.