High hopes in small vials: UNICEF to lead global procurement, supply of COVID-19 vaccines
High hopes in small vials: UNICEF to lead global procurement, supply of COVID-19 vaccines
AFP File Photo

In what could possibly be the world's largest and fastest ever operation of its kind, UNICEF has announced that it will be leading the procurement and supply of coronavirus vaccines to ensure that all countries have safe, fast and equitable access to initial doses when they are available.

The United Nations Children's Fund is the world's largest single vaccine buyer, procuring more than 2 billion doses of various vaccines annually for routine immunisation and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries.

With several vaccine candidates showing promise, the UN agency, in collaboration with the Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization, 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.

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, it said.

The vaccine procurement and distribution effort, involving over 170 economies, has the potential to become 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," UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said. About 28 manufacturers have shared their annual production plans for COVID-19 vaccines with UNICEF, which said in a market assessment that the drug makers were 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 were successful, advance purchase agreements were put in place, funding was confirmed, and regulatory and registration pathways were streamlined.

Sputnik trials in India:

The clinical trials of the Russian Sputnik V Vaccine will begin this month in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, India and Brazil. The preliminary results of the Phase III trial will be published in October-November.

China vaccines on display:

China has put its home-grown coronavirus vaccines on display for the first time, as the country where the contagion was discovered looks to shape the narrative surrounding the pandemic. High hopes hang on the small vials of liquid on show at a Beijing trade fair this week -- vaccine candidates produced by Chinese companies Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm.

Neither has hit the market yet but the makers hope they will be approved after the all-important phase 3 trials, as early as year-end. A Sinovac representative told AFP his firm has already "completed the construction of a vaccine factory," which will be able to produce 300 million doses a year.

China's nationalistic tabloid Global Times reported last month that "the price of the vaccines will not be high". Every two doses should cost below 1,000 yuan ($146), the report said, citing Sinopharm's chairman, who told media he has already been injected with one of the candidate vaccines.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported Monday that another vaccine candidate, developed by Chinese military scientists, can deal with mutations in the coronavirus.

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