The WHO green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second the United Nations health agency has issued after authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. Monday’s announcement is expected to trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up to the UN-backed COVAX effort, which aims to provide vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.
Countries without access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start immunizing their health workers and populations at risk, said Dr Maringela Simo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Medicines. health products.
The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million. But many countries have yet to launch immunization programs, and even rich countries face vaccine dose shortages as manufacturers scramble to ramp up production.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been authorized 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 cold storage which is not common in many developing countries. Both vaccines require two injections per person, weeks apart.
Last week, WHO vaccine experts recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 18, including in countries that have detected variants of COVID-19.
But this 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 first seen in South Africa should be careful in their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. , suggesting that other injections be preferred instead.
The AstraZeneca vaccine constitutes the bulk of the COVAX stockpile and concerns were recently raised after an early study suggested that it may not prevent mild and moderate illness caused by the variant first seen in South Africa. South. Last week, South Africa scaled back its planned deployment of the AstraZeneca vaccine, choosing instead to use an unlicensed vaccine from Johnson & Johnson for its healthcare workers.
COVAX has already missed its own target of starting coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time vaccines have been rolled out in rich countries. Many 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 specified 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, should also receive early doses of COVAX.
Some public health experts called this very problematic and attributed it to the flawed design of COVAX, which allowed donor countries to double down on purchasing vaccines under the program while signing their own trade deals.
Canada has ordered enough doses to supply its population about five times as much and now they are looking to accept their share of COVAX doses, which would otherwise be given to poor countries, said Anna Marriott, health policy manager for Oxfam International. .
WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said wealthy countries that have signed up to receive COVAX vaccines will not have their applications rejected.
The COVAX installation will not penalize countries, she said in early February.
After pledging more than $ 400 million to COVAX last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country still intends to get vaccinated with COVAX.
Marriott said wealthy countries planning to take doses of COVAX should reconsider their intentions, given their earlier calls to support the goal of efforts to ensure equal access to vaccines for all nations around the world. , rich or poor.
It sounds pretty hypocritical, she said. Rich countries with their own supplies should make the right call and not take vaccines from countries that are really in dire straits.
This story corrects for the fact that doses will be shipped by WHO partners, not AstraZenecas partners.
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