The World of International Organizations

WHO adds vaccines for emergency use

A medical assistant at a U.S. Navy health clinic in San Diego draws a patient’s blood for Phase III trials of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in December (AN/Jake Greenberg)

The World Health Organization listed two of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines for emergency use on Monday, only the second instance of approvals granted since the pandemic began and an important step towards broadening access to vaccines globally.

The emergency authorization status — coming a month and a half after WHO approved the first such designation for Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine Comirnaty® — allows the COVAX Facility to distribute these vaccines to low-income and developing countries and helps more nations speed up their own COVID-19 vaccine approvals, the U.N. health agency said in a statement.

The emergency use listing sets in motion potential access to hundreds of millions more doses in countries that participate in COVAX, which is co-led by WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It aims to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee all nations will have fair and equitable access. The pandemic has infected more than 109 million people and killed 2.4 million people worldwide.

The coronavirus vaccines developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca are produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio of South Korea and the Serum Institute of India. WHO’s month-long review of the vaccines for their emergency use listing is part of an effort to help make medicines, vaccines and diagnostics available as quickly as possible, but is not meant to replace the approval process of national regulators.

“Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão, a Brazilian pediatrician who serves as WHO’s assistant-director general for access to medicines and health products.

‘But we must keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access,” she said. “To do that we need two things: a scale-up of manufacturing capacity and developers’ early submission of their vaccines for WHO review.”

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