UNICEF to lead procurement, supply of COVID-19 vaccines globally

The UN agency staff unloading vital medical supplies for the hospitals (Source: @UNICEF)

New Delhi (NVI): The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that it will be leading procurement and supply of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that no country is left without access to a future vaccine.

The UN agency role is part of the global vaccine plan of the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. However, the vaccine procurement and distribution effort involving over 170 economies, could possibly be the world’s largest and fastest ever operation of its kind.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director said, “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.”

“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,” Fore added.

UNICEF is the world’s largest single vaccine buyer, procuring more than 2 billion doses of vaccines annually for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries.

The UN agency 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 to this, 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 release.

UNICEF will manage these efforts in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), PAHO, World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other partners.

Moreover, the COVAX Facility is open to all countries to ensure that no country is left without access to a future COVID-19 vaccine.

On behalf of the COVAX Facility, some 28 manufacturers in 10 countries have shared their annual production plans for COVID-19 vaccines –through 2023, with UNICEF, the market assessment said the drug makers are willing to collectively produce unprecedented quantities of vaccines over the coming 1-2 years, the release said.

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.

UNICEF also informed that it will be ensuring self-financing economies sign up for the COVAX Facility by September 18, which will allow COVAX to support early, at-risk investments in increasing manufacturing capacity on a broad scale.

Seth Berkley Gavi’s Chief Executive Officer said, “UNICEF has been critical partner in Gavi’s success over the last two decades helped us reach more than half the world’s population with life-saving vaccines.”

“This expertise and experience will be important in ensuring that COVAX – as a global effort to procure and deliver safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, on an accelerated time-frame, and at an unprecedented scale – can protect the most at-risk, wherever they may be in the world,” he added.

Over the 20 years, Gavi has reached more than 760 million children with life-saving vaccines, preventing more than 13 million deaths.

Berkley further said, “Together we can work to end the acute stage of this pandemic, including its devastating impact on individuals, communities, and economies.”