Medical Management

UNICEF to lead procurement of COVID-19 vaccines in world’s largest and fastest ever operation of its kind

UNICEF is leading efforts to procure and supply COVID-19 vaccines in what could possibly be the world’s largest and fastest ever procurement and supply of vaccines, as part of the global vaccine plan of the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

In the Lao PDR, UNICEF will also lead the procurement of the vaccine, the logistics for its introduction and community engagement activities.

With several vaccine candidates showing promise, UNICEF, in collaboration with the PAHO Revolving Fund, and in consultation with other partners, will lead efforts to procure and supply doses of COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the COVAX Facility for 92 low- and lower middle-income countries, including the Lao PDR, whose vaccine purchases will be supported by the mechanism through the Gavi COVAX AMC as well as a buffer stockpile for humanitarian emergencies. In addition, UNICEF will also serve as procurement coordinator to support procurement by 80 higher-income economies, which have expressed their intent to participate in the COVAX Facility and would finance the vaccines from their own public finance budgets.

UNICEF will undertake these efforts in close collaboration with WHO, Gavi, 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.

“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’s role in the procurement and introduction of the COVAX vaccine in the Lao PDR will build on the successful efforts of the government to protect the population against COVID-19. This initiative will further deepen our partnership with the Ministry of Health under the immunisation programme and will strengthen primary healthcare services for the population at large, with a particular focus on children,” Said Representative of UNICEF Lao PDR Pia Rebello Britto.

Globally, immunization saves 2 to 3 million lives each year. By protecting children against serious diseases, vaccines play a central role in ending preventable deaths. The National Immunization Programme under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, which UNICEF supports, helps identify children who have been left behind by health systems and brings them life-saving care.

While we wait for the vaccine to be available, there is evidence that suggest that routine immunization services are at risk because of the pandemic and this in turn is having an impact on immunization coverage which has decreased in the Lao PDR.

“The consequences of this declining immunization coverage can jeopardize decades of progress in child survival and development and diseases that belong now to the past could resurge. UNICEF is working hand in hand with the government to ensure that every child is fully immunized and that health facilities are staffed and equipped with adequate personal protective equipment to lower the risk of virus transmission. Through their outreach to communities the government and UNICEF are building trust among community members in the health system, which is key in the immunization efforts,” emphasized Dr. Britto while adding that looking forward it is crucial to call for continued investment in immunization to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases and as such the need to safeguard the immunization budget from potential cuts.

UNICEF is the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, procuring more than 2 billion doses of vaccines globally every year for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries. UNICEF Lao PDR procures all the vaccines available in the country for a total value of over US$5.68 million. It is the main procurement partner of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which over the last 20 years has reached more than 760 million children with life-saving vaccines, preventing more than 13 million deaths globally and protecting over 600,000 children under 5 in the Lao PDR. UNICEF will use its market shaping and procurement expertise to coordinate the procurement and supply of COVID-19 vaccines for the COVAX Facility. This could potentially double the agency’s overall vaccine procurement throughput volume in 2021 alone.

In response to an expression of interest that UNICEF issued in June on behalf of the COVAX Facility, 28 manufacturers with production facilities in 10 countries shared their annual production plans for COVID-19 vaccines through 2023. According to the timelines the manufacturers indicated, the span from development to production could be one of the fastest scientific and manufacturing leaps in history.

A UNICEF market assessment, developed by compiling information submitted by vaccine manufacturers along with publicly available data, revealed that manufacturers are willing to collectively produce unprecedented quantities of vaccines over the coming 1-2 years. However, manufacturers signaled 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.

Currently under development by WHO, the COVAX allocation framework will guide how and where UNICEF, PAHO and other procurers working on behalf of participating countries supply COVID-19 vaccines that are secured by the Facility. Initial dose allocations are expected to be scaled to enable countries to vaccinate health and social workers, followed by subsequent tranches of vaccine doses that would enable participating countries to vaccinate populations at higher risk of critical COVID-19 disease.

“UNICEF has been a critical partner in the Alliance’s success over the last two decades – helping us reach more than half the world’s population with life-saving vaccines,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi. “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 timeframe, and at an unprecedented scale – can protect the most at-risk, wherever they may be in the world. Together we can work to end the acute stage of this pandemic, including its devastating impact on individuals, communities, and economies.”

“We are committed to giving every child the best start in life, to grow and develop to their full potential. If children do not get the attention they deserve and do not get protected from the impact of this pandemic, we could be seeing the impact beyond a single generation,” Dr. Britto concluded.

Source: Lao News Agency