Vaccinating the hard-to-reach

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2223/Susan Markisz
Accompanied by her mother, 1-year-old Angela Estrella is vaccinated against measles, at a health centre in Guatemala.

Spreading vaccines around the world

As the world’s largest buyer of vaccines, UNICEF obtains more affordable prices and makes immunization accessible to more children in both low and middle-income countries. This year, after two years of negotiation with manufacturers and partners, UNICEF announced the lowest prices ever for polio vaccine. Over the coming five years (2014–2018), the new prices will result in about US$800 million of reduced costs for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

By forecasting demand, encouraging competition and engaging with manufacturers, UNICEF helps to maintain a constant supply of essential childhood vaccines to the developing world.

In 2012, UNICEF procured: 

  • More than 500 million immunization syringes
  • Nearly US$30 million worth of ‘cold chain’ equipment
  • Over 1 billion doses of oral polio vaccines
  • 161 million doses of measles vaccines
  • 134 million doses of the pentavalent vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis and Hib (influenza type B) with one jab

Keeping vaccines affordable

UNICEF leverages its position as the single largest buyer of vaccines in the world to secure lower prices – and to save more children in more countries through immunization. Lower prices are essential, particularly for expensive new vaccines like those against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus. Respectively, these viruses cause pneumonia and diarrhoea – the leading causes of death among children under the age of 5.

Cold chain logistics

Vaccines are sensitive biological products that need to be kept at a constant temperature, usually between 2 and 8 degrees Centigrade (36-45º F). The ‘cold chain’ is the backbone of immunization programmes. It refers to the storage and transport equipment that keeps vaccines at this constant temperature from the moment they are produced, through international transport, all the way to the immunization clinic or session they are used in to provide life-saving protection to young children.

UNICEF helps countries to develop and maintain a healthy cold chain as part of their commitment to providing all children with access to vaccines. Some areas for UNICEF support include improving data collection and inventory maintenance. This helps health workers make sure that there enough vaccines for all the children who need them and that the vaccines are kept at the right temperature at every step of their journey.
UNICEF also supports countries to build quality storage facilities and distribution systems that keep vaccine stocks in good condition up until they reach the children who need them. We also advise governments on staffing to keep the cold chain running smoothly.



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