The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the first vaccine for its COVAX program, aimed at ensuring equitable access to vaccines in Low- and middle-income countries.
On Monday, the UN health agency issued emergency approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine, with deliveries expected to commence by March.
The approval comes after a study in South Africa indicates that the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work well against a new evolving variant of the coronavirus that emerged in the country. The new variant now accounts for most of cases in South Africa, which initially announced a pause in its rollout of one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine it had already received.
Questions also remain about how well the vaccine protects older people.
The AstraZeneca shot has been called a “vaccine for the world,” because of its low cost and the fact that it can be kept in refrigerators rather than at the ultra-cold or freezer temperatures some other vaccines require.
COVAX is a shared-procurement program, involving the WHO, Gavi vaccine alliance, UNICEF and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, aimed at ensuring global access to coronavirus vaccines, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The WHO hopes to deliver 336 million doses in the first half of the year.
Many developing countries have so far not been able to vaccinate due to lack of supply and are dependent on COVAX, which has so far raised $6 billion (€4.95 billion) in pledges but will require at least another $2 billion this year, according to media reports.
In all, 190 countries are participating in the COVAX program. Some will pay for their supplies while the 92 lowest-income nations will receive the vaccines as donations.
Meanwhile African countries have been ordering vaccines individually. For example, Zimbabwe on Monday received 200,000 doses of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines from China. Gabon, Algeria and Guinea have also ordered the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. The African Union says it has secured roughly 670 million doses for the African continent from various manufacturers.
Experts say most people in lower income countries may have to wait beyond 2021 for vaccination as vaccine makers’ combined production this year is expected to only be able to cover a third of the world’s population.