The World Health Organisation on Thursday cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for ’emergency use’. Now, poorer countries may soon get access to the Pfizer vaccine which is already available in Europe and North America.© STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images Vials in front of the World Health Organization (WHO) logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.
The WHO said late on Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
The UN health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”
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Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” the WHO said.
The WHO added that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible”.