As world leaders prepare to converge on London for the GAVI Alliance pledging conference next week, UNICEF is calling on donors to fund a global immunization effort to save millions of children's lives by 2015.

The children's agency emphasized that the best use of funding for vaccines is to implement programmes that prioritize the hardest to reach children who currently miss out on these simple life-saving vaccines. Currently one in five children is not vaccinated.

"We have the vaccines and the technical expertise to save millions of children's lives," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, who will be in London for the conference. "Now we must match our knowledge with our commitment to help the poorest, most vulnerable children. No immunization campaign can succeed fully without reaching the hardest to reach."

UNICEF is in the unique position of being involved at every stage of the immunization process, supplying vaccines to 56 per cent of the world's children and working on the ground in over 150 countries. It is a founding partner in the GAVI Alliance, which is holding a conference in London on June 13th where it is hoped donor countries will make firm commitments to fund vaccines through 2015.

The opportunity: Saving four million children's lives by 2015

Beyond expanding coverage to reach the unreached, focus must also be on introducing powerful new vaccines to countries that do not have access to them. Pneumonia and diarrhoea cause one-third of all childhood deaths, and new vaccines against some causes of these deadly diseases now exist.

The GAVI Alliance, UNICEF and partners aim to save an additional four million children's lives by 2015 by rolling out these new vaccines and others. Despite significant progress in reducing childhood mortality, nearly two million children still die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

UNICEF's role

In 2010, UNICEF procured, on behalf of GAVI and governments of developing countries, around 2.53 billion doses of traditional and new vaccines worth $750 million. As the leading vaccine procurement agency in the world, with its supply division based in Copenhagen, UNICEF contributes to the health and security of the global vaccine market.

UNICEF's procurement work is guided by an over-arching vaccine security strategy that entails working with multiple, WHO-prequalified suppliers to discourage monopolies; accurately forecasting multi-year global vaccine needs in order to negotiate favourable prices and ensure an adequate supply of vaccines; and securing the safe and timely delivery of the vaccines to countries.

Beyond procurement, UNICEF works with governments to help deliver vaccines to communities via a "cold chain", train vaccinators, and ensure that care-givers understand the importance of immunization and how to access it.

About vaccine pricing

In an effort to improve transparency around vaccine supply, UNICEF recently made public the prices it pays for individual vaccines. As the largest buyer of children's vaccines, this move is in line with UNICEF's commitment to ensure that vaccine supply is sustainable and affordable.

"A competitive and sustainable market that achieves greater vaccine security is in the best interest of children, especially the poorest and most vulnerable," said Ms. Shanelle Hall, Director, UNICEF's Supply Division. "We will publish the prices we pay for vaccines once contracts for vaccines have been awarded following a procurement process. The commitments expressed today by industry help assure us that we can look forward to lower vaccine prices which will enable more and more children to have access to vaccines that could save their lives."