The UN Children’s Fund will lead efforts to procure and supply COVID-19 vaccines in what could be the world’s largest and fastest operation as part of the global COVAX vaccine plan led by the World Health Organization and the Gavi World Vaccine Alliance.
With several candidate vaccines that look promising, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization, sIt will be responsible for acquiring and supplying doses on behalf of COVAX for 92 low- and middle-income countries, and will maintain a reserve arsenal for humanitarian emergencies.
The Fund announced in a statement that it will also serve as the procurement coordinator for 80 higher-income economies that have expressed their intention to participate in COVAX and finance vaccines out of their public budgets.
The COVAX initiative is open to all countries to ensure that no one is left without access to a future COVID-19 vaccine, already more than 170 nations have expressed interest.
“It is a partnership between governments, manufacturers and multilateral partners to continue the high-risk fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In our collective quest for a vaccine, UNICEF is leveraging its strengths in vaccine provision to ensure that all countries have safe, prompt and equitable access to initial doses when available, ”said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
A legacy of providing vaccines
The UN Children’s Fund is the world’s largest vaccine buyer, purchasing more than 2 billion doses a year for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries. It is Gavi’s primary procurement partner, the Vaccine Alliance, which over the past 20 years has reached more than 760 million children with life-saving immunizations, and averted more than 13 million deaths.
Some 28 manufacturers with facilities with production capacity in 10 countries shared their annual COVID-19 vaccine production plans through 2023 with UNICEF. In accordance with the deadlines they indicated, the time span from development to production could be one of the fastest scientific and manufacturing advances in history.
Manufacturers are ready to collectively produce unprecedented amounts of vaccines over the next two years. However, they noted that investments to support large-scale dose production would largely depend on whether clinical trials are successful, advance purchase agreements are established, funding is confirmed, and registration and regulatory pathways are simplified.
A key next step will be to ensure that economies that can finance vaccines enroll in the COVAX Facility by September 18, allowing COVAX support early investments at risk to increase large-scale manufacturing capacity, through advance purchase agreements.
Initial dose allocations are expected to be scaled to allow countries to vaccinate health and social workers, followed by populations most at risk for severe disease.
“UNICEF has been a critical partner in the Alliance’s success over the past two decades, helping us reach more than half of the world’s population with life-saving vaccines. This knowledge and experience will be important to ensure that COVAX achieves and deliver safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, in an accelerated time frame and on an unprecedented scale, “said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi.
Steps to follow for UN agencies
UNICEF, Gavi, WHO and PAHO have started a critical job to prepare countries for the arrival of vaccines in collaboration with partners and national governments, including:
- Work with device manufacturers to plan for the availability of safe vaccination equipment and cold chain requirements for the vaccine;
- Develop orientation with WHO and trainings to support vaccination policies and proper handling, storage and distribution of vaccines;
- Work with manufacturers on transportation and logistics solutions to get vaccine doses to countries as quickly and safely as possible once they are assigned;
- Support countries in planning vaccine delivery, including targeting those most exposed to the virus and transportation and storage.
- Step up efforts with civil society and other local partners to ensure that people are well informed about the COVID-19 vaccination process and take steps to improve confidence and address misinformation about vaccines.