The World Health Organization has granted the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine an emergency use listing, paving the way for its more widespread global rollout, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Monday.
The WHO listing will apply to the share of the vaccine that will be distributed mainly to low- and middle-income countries. The producers will be the Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca-SKBio of Korea.
This is only the second time the WHO has granted emergency use listing, the first being for the BioNTech/Pfizer shot on December 31.
The listing will mean countries receiving the jab through COVAX — the global coronavirus vaccine supply mechanism — will be able to use the WHO’s recommendation for their own national approval process and start receiving doses. More broadly, the WHO’s emergency use listing is useful for countries deciding whether to approve a vaccine. The first vaccines from COVAX are slated for distribution later this month.
“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 Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant-director general for access to medicines and health products, at a press briefing.
There’s no need for countries to rush in sealing bilateral deals, as these agreements would drive up competition for a scarce good and hike prices, she added.
The announcement comes in the wake of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization’s recommendation on February 10 for the Oxford/Astrazeneca jab for all adults, regardless of age. SAGE also backed the vaccine in places where coronavirus variants are circulating.
The WHO has repeatedly called on drugmakers to submit data in a more timely fashion so that it can expedite emergency use listings.