The World Health Organization granted emergency authorization to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, a move that should allow UN agency partners to ship millions of doses to countries around the world as part of a supported program. by the UN to control the pandemic.
In a statement Monday, the WHO said it was approving AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.
The WHO green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second the UN health agency has issued after authorizing 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 UN-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.
“Countries that to date do not have access to vaccines will finally be able to begin vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected an estimated 109 million people worldwide, killing at least 2.4 million of them. But many of the world’s countries have yet to initiate vaccination programs, and even wealthy nations face vaccine dose shortages as manufacturers struggle to increase production.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been licensed in more than 50 countries, including Great Britain, India, Argentina and Mexico. It is cheaper and easier to handle than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires deep cold storage that is not widespread in many developing nations. Both vaccines require two injections per person, given weeks apart.
Last week, WHO vaccine experts recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over the age of 18, even in countries that have detected variants of COVID-19.
But that was contrary to the recommendation of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said countries that had identified a variant of the virus that was first seen in South Africa should be “cautious” in using the virus. AstraZeneca vaccine, suggesting that other injections be prioritized. instead of.
The AstraZeneca vaccine forms the bulk of the current COVAX stockpile and concerns have recently been raised after an initial study suggested that it may not prevent the mild and moderate disease caused by the variant that was first seen in South Africa. Last week, South Africa scaled back its planned launch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, opting instead to use an unlicensed injection from Johnson & Johnson for its healthcare workers.
COVAX has already missed its own goal of starting coronavirus vaccines in poor countries at the same time vaccines were implemented 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 GAVI vaccine alliance, have not said which countries will receive the first doses of COVAX. But an initial plan showed that a handful of wealthy countries that have signed multiple private vaccine deals, including Canada, South Korea and New Zealand, are also scheduled to receive early doses of COVAX.
Some public health experts called that “very problematic” and attributed it to the flawed design of COVAX, which allowed donor countries to do a double dip buying vaccines from the program while simultaneously signing their own trade agreements.
“Canada has ordered enough doses to supply its population roughly five times and now they are looking to accept their share of COVAX doses that would otherwise be given to poor countries,” said Anna Marriott, Oxfam International’s director of health policy.
WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said that wealthy countries that have signed up to receive COVAX vaccines will not have their applications denied.
“The installation of COVAX is not going to penalize countries,” he said in early February.
After committing more than $ 400 million to COVAX last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that it was always his country’s intention to obtain vaccines through COVAX.
Marriott said rich countries planning to take doses of COVAX should reconsider their intentions, given their earlier calls to support the goal of the equal access to vaccines effort for all nations of the world, rich or poor.
“It seems pretty hypocritical,” he said. “Rich countries with their own supplies must make the right decision and not get vaccines from countries that are really in dire straits.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism