TORONTO (AP) – The World Health Organization has issued an emergency permit for AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, a move to enable UN agency partners to send millions of doses to countries around the world as part of a UN-backed pandemic program.
In a statement Monday, the WHO said it approved AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.
The WHO’s green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second issued by the UN Health Agency after approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. Monday’s announcement was to trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up to the UN – sponsored COVAX effort aimed at delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.
“Countries without hitherto access to vaccines will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and population groups at risk,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão, WHO’s Deputy Director – General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected about 109 million people worldwide, killing at least 2.4 million of them. However, many of the world’s countries have not yet started vaccination programs, and even rich countries are facing a shortage of vaccine doses as manufacturers struggle to increase production.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been approved in more than 50 countries, including the United Kingdom, India, Argentina and Mexico. It is cheaper and easier to handle than the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which requires deep cold storage, which is not widespread in many developing countries. Both vaccines require two shots per day. Person at weekly intervals.
Last week, WHO vaccine experts recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over the age of 18, including in countries that have detected variants of COVID-19.
But it was contrary to the recommendation of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said that 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 makes up the majority of COVAX’s current stock, and concerns were recently raised after an early study suggested that it may not have prevented mild and moderate illness caused by the variant first seen in South Africa. Last week, South Africa reduced its planned rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine and chose instead to use an unlicensed shot from Johnson & Johnson for its healthcare workers.
COVAX has already missed its own goal of starting coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries, while shots were rolled out in rich countries. Numerous developing countries have rushed in recent weeks to sign their own private offer to buy vaccines, unwilling to wait for COVAX.
The WHO and its partners, including the vaccination alliance GAVI, have not said which countries will receive the first doses of COVAX. But an initial plan showed that a handful of rich countries that have signed several private vaccine agreements, including Canada, South Korea and New Zealand, are also scheduled to receive early doses of COVAX.
Some public health experts called it “very problematic” and attributed it to COVAX’s flawed design, which allowed donor countries to double by purchasing vaccines from the program while signing their own commercial offers.
“Canada has ordered enough doses to supply its population about five times, and now they want to accept their share of doses from COVAX that would otherwise be given to poor nations,” said Anna Marriott, head of Oxfam International, health policy.
WHO chief researcher Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said that rich countries that have signed up for COVAX vaccinations will not have their requests rejected.
“The COVAX plant will not penalize countries,” she said in early February.
After promising 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 of COVAX need to be pressured to reconsider, given their past calls for support for the effort’s goal of equal access to vaccines for all the nations of the world, rich or poor.
“It seems pretty hypocritical,” she said.
This story corrects that doses will be sent by WHO partners, not AstraZeneca partners.
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