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WHO approves AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Move allows company’s partners in India and South Korea to ship millions as part of UN-backed program to tame the pandemic in vulnerable countries

A box containing vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Foch hospital in Suresnes, on the start of a vaccination campaign for health workers with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, February 6, 2021. (Alain JOCARD / AFP)
A box containing vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Foch hospital in Suresnes, on the start of a vaccination campaign for health workers with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, February 6, 2021. (Alain JOCARD / AFP)

The World Health Organization has granted an emergency authorization to the coronavirus vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, a move that should allow the company’s partners to ship millions of doses to countries worldwide as part of a UN-backed program to tame the pandemic.

In a statement Monday, the UN health agency said it was authorizing the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.

WHO’s green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine should trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up for the UN-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable.

Among those populations are Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The WHO’s envoy to the Palestinians, Gerald Rockenschaub, told The Times of Israel Monday that between 100,000 and 400,000 AstraZeneca vaccines had already been allocated for use by the Palestinians through COVAX.

Their arrival in Ramallah could be as early as late February or early March, but bureaucratic snags could also hinder their delivery.

A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on February 3, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

“It all depends on when AstraZeneca receives authorization,” Rockenschaub said.

“Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão, WHO’s Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products.

Although WHO does not approve or regulate vaccines, it assesses their safety and effectiveness for developing countries that do not have a strong regulatory system.

Last week, its group of vaccine experts recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over age 18, including in countries that have detected variants of COVID-19.

WHO’s advice largely mirrored guidance previously issued by Britain’s drug regulator and the European Medicines Agency.

The coronavirus pandemic has infected about 109 million people worldwide and killed at least 2.4 million.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

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