WHO plans to approve several COVID-19 vaccines from western and Chinese manufacturers in the coming weeks and months, be rolled out globally so that poorer countries can start their inoculation as disclosed in a document published on Wednesday January 20.
The health organization aims for rapid vaccine releases in poorer countries. COVAX, a global scheme co-led by the WHO, wants to deliver at least two billion COVID-19 doses across the world this year, with at least 1.3 billion going to poorer countries.
While the plan if successful, would be a welcomed one, regulatory approvals are key to confirming the effectiveness and the safety of the vaccines. Poorer countries would have to rely mostly on WHO authorizations as they have limited regulatory capacity of their own.
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) could be authorised by the WHO in January or February, the document says.
The same vaccine produced in South Korea by SK Bioscience could be approved by the UN agency in the second half of February, at the earliest, according to a provisional calendar published by the WHO.
With the COVAX initiative, supply contracts have already been made with AstraZeneca and SII for about 400 million doses and an option for many more hundreds of millions, although the timing of deliveries is uncertain. The WHO authorized the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech at the end of December.
WHO officials have said they are seeking a supply deal with the US pharmaceutical giant, which has already committed hundreds of millions of doses this year to several wealthy nations. COVAX had not initially included the Pfizer/BioNTech shot in its shortlist for advance purchases.
Pfizer, however, did not respond to a request for comment on whether a deal was close and whether it would involve only a limited number of doses this year.
The WHO is also considering possible quick approvals for two Chinese vaccines, the provisional calendar shows.
Sinopharm and Sinovac have filed their applications with the WHO, which is reviewing them and could make decisions on both in March at the earliest, it says.
Neither vaccine was shortlisted by the WHO for possible advance purchase deals. WHO approval does not automatically lead to purchases by COVAX. It could also facilitate the release in poorer countries that acquire the vaccines directly.