According to the United Nations health agency, the list of emergency uses “opens the door” for countries to speed up their vaccine approval processes.
The World Health Organization has listed Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a critical step that the United Nations health agency says aims to make the vaccine more readily available in developing countries.
In a statement Thursday, the WHO said its validation of the vaccine – the first since the start of the pandemic – “opens the door for countries to speed up their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
It will also allow groups, such as UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization, “to procure the vaccine for distribution to countries in need,” the WHO said.
“This is a very positive step in ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr Mariangela Simao, WHO deputy director general for access to medicines and health products, in the statement. .
“But I would like to stress the need for an even greater global effort to achieve sufficient vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere.”
The WHO has said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine meets its safety requirements and its benefits outweigh any potential risks.
The vaccine, which must be stored at ultra-low temperatures, is already being administered in several countries, including the United States, Canada, Qatar, Bahrain and Mexico.
Human rights groups have expressed concern over richer countries “hoarding” vaccines to the detriment of developing countries.
A recent Amnesty International report found that all of Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccines and 96% of Pfizer-BioNtech’s doses had been secured by wealthy countries, including Canada, the UK, and the US.
“Many countries saw the vaccine, naturally, as a way out of this crisis and it was a race,” Stephen Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty, told Al Jazeera this month.
“Rather than working together, we have had a ‘me first’ attitude in many countries and there has been a lack of multilateralism and global coordination around the world.
Director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John Nkengasong also warned that Africa may not see vaccines until the second quarter of 2021.
Nkengasong called it a “moral problem” and urged the UN to convene a special session to discuss the ethical and equitable distribution of vaccines in order to avoid “this North-South mistrust of vaccines, which is a common good ”.
The United Nations health agency, along with the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), is leading a global effort called COVAX to secure and distribute vaccines to the poorest countries, to ensure that vaccines are not not only sent to rich countries.
The COVAX alliance, supported by the WHO, has signed agreements for nearly two billion doses, with the first deliveries scheduled for early 2021.
The alliance is in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech to obtain a vaccine.