UNICEF has announced that it will lead coronavirus vaccine sourcing and delivery to ensure that all countries have safe, fast and equitable access to initial doses as they become available.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the world‘s largest single vaccine buyer, sourcing more than 2 billion doses of various vaccines annually for routine immunization and outbreak response in nearly 100 countries.
With several vaccine candidates showing promise, the UN agency will work with the Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to source and deliver 92 doses of COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility for countries with low and lower middle income whose vaccine purchases are supported by the mechanism.
UNICEF will also act as a procurement coordinator to support purchases from 80 higher-income economies that have announced their intention to participate in the COVAX facility and will fund vaccines from their own budgets, it said.
Vaccine sourcing and distribution efforts, involving over 170 economies, have the potential to become the largest and fastest of its kind in the world.
“This is a partnership between governments, manufacturers and multilateral partners to continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF.
“In our shared pursuit of a vaccine, UNICEF is leveraging its unique vaccine supply strengths to ensure that all countries have safe, fast and equitable access to starting doses as they become available,” she said.
UNICEF will undertake this effort in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), PAHO, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other partners. The COVAX facility is open to all countries to ensure that no country does not have access to a future COVID-19 vaccine.
About 28 manufacturers have shared their annual production plans for COVID-19 vaccines – through 2023 – with UNICEF, who in a market assessment said drug makers are ready to collectively produce “unprecedented amounts” of vaccines in the next 1-2 years.
However, manufacturers signaled that investments to support such large-scale can production would depend to a large extent on successful clinical trials, pre-purchase agreements, approved funding, and streamlining regulatory and registration pathways.
UNICEF said an important next step is ensuring that self-financing economies sign up for the COVAX Facility by September 18, so that COVAX can support early stage investments in large-scale production capacity expansion.
“UNICEF has been a critical partner in Gavi’s success over the past two decades,” said Seth Berkley, Gavi’s chief executive officer.
In the past 20 years, Gavi has reached over 760 million children with life-saving vaccines, preventing more than 13 million deaths.
“(UNICEF) has helped us reach more than half the world‘s population with life-saving vaccines.” Seth Berkley said.
“This expertise and experience will be important in ensuring that – as a global effort to source and deliver safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in an accelerated time frame and on an unprecedented scale – COVAX can protect the most vulnerable, wherever wherever they are in the world, “he said.
“Together we can work to end the acute stage of this pandemic, including its devastating effects on individuals, communities and economies,” added Seth Berkley.
The COVAX Global Vaccines Facility is the vaccine pillar of the ACT Accelerator, an initiative launched in April to accelerate drug development to treat COVID-19 and make it available to people everywhere.
It is operated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. CEPI and WHO as well as vaccine manufacturers from multinational and developing countries.
The facility is committed to ensuring that as many countries as possible work together to pool the development, procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.