UNICEF chief sees H1 "crush" in COVID-19 vaccine demand easing in H2

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Munich Security Conference

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Children's Fund, the largest single buyer of vaccines in the world, expects a "crush" of demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the first year, with supplies only loosening in the second half, UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said on Friday.

Fore, speaking to an event organised by the World Economic Forum, said that UNICEF was buying refrigerators to boost cold chains and making other preparations for vaccine distribution in poor countries where the challenges were "enormous".

"What has happened in our world is that we now have a crush of demand here in the first half of the year and yet what it looks like from a manufacturing and availability point of view is that it's the second half of the year when we are going to have the supply available," Fore said. "So timing is a big problem and a big issue but it gives us time to plan."

With distribution of vaccines via the COVAX facility, UNICEF expected to double its acquisition of vaccine doses to 4 billion this year, including those against childhood diseases, she said.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman and ceo of DP World which signed a COVID-19 vaccine distribution partnership with UNICEF earlier this week, said that demand for regular goods and medical supplies had created a shortage of containers."For the first time in the world, in our business, we find it is difficult to find empty sea containers. Can you believe it?" he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai)