The World Health Organization has granted an emergency authorization to AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, a move that should allow the U.N. agency's partners to ship millions of doses to countries worldwide as part of a U.N.-backed program to tame the pandemic.
In a statement Monday, WHO said it was authorizing the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea's AstraZeneca-SKBio.
WHO's green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second one the U.N. health agency has issued after approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December.
Monday's announcement should trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up for the U.N.-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world's most vulnerable people.
Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, said Dr Maringela Simo, WHO's Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected about 109 million people worldwide and killed at least 2.4 million of them. But many of the world's countries have not yet started vaccination programs and even rich nations are facing shortages of vaccine doses as manufacturers struggle to ramp up production.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been authorized in more than 50 countries, including Britain, India, Argentina and Mexico.
It is cheaper and easier to handle than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs deep cold storage that is not widespread in many developing nations. Both vaccines require two shots per person, given weeks apart.
Last week, WHO's vaccine experts recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over age 18, including in countries that have detected variants of COVID-19.
But that was contrary to the recommendation from the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said countries that had identified a virus variant first seen in South Africa should be cautious in their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, suggesting that other shots be prioritized instead.
The AstraZeneca vaccine forms the bulk of COVAX's current stockpile and concerns were recently raised after an early study suggested it might not prevent mild and moderate disease caused by the variant first seen South Africa.
Last week, South Africa scaled back its planned rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, opting instead to use an unlicensed shot from Johnson & Johnson for its health care workers.
COVAX has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries.
Numerous developing countries have rushed in recent weeks to sign their own private deals to buy vaccines, unwilling to wait for COVAX.
WHO and its partners, including the vaccines alliance GAVI, have not said which countries will receive the first doses from COVAX.
But an initial plan showed a handful of rich countries that have signed multiple private vaccine deals, including Canada, South Korea and New Zealand, are also scheduled to receive early doses from COVAX.
Some public health experts called that very problematic and attributed it to COVAX's flawed design, which allowed donor countries to double dip by purchasing vaccines from the program while also signing their own commercial deals.
Canada has ordered enough doses to supply their population about five times over and now they're looking to accept their share of doses from COVAX, which would otherwise be given to poor nations, said Anna Marriott, health policy lead for Oxfam International.
WHO's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, has said rich countries that have signed up to receive vaccines from COVAX won't have their requests denied.
The COVAX facility is not going to penalize countries, she said in early February.
After pledging more than $400 million to COVAX last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was always his country's intention to get vaccines through COVAX.
Marriott said rich countries planning to take doses from COVAX should be pressured to reconsider, given their earlier calls of support for the effort's goal of equal access to vaccines for all the world's nations, rich or poor.
It seems quite hypocritical, she said.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.