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WHO approves emergency use of COVID vaccine

December 31, 2020

The World Health Organization has granted its first emergency use validation to BioNTech-Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. That should allow countries to speed up regulatory approval.

A member of the ASB (Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund) presents a vial with Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Bad Windsheim, Germany
The German-developed vaccine is the first to be approved by the WHO for emergency useImage: Hannibal Hanschke/REUTERS

The World Health Organization has granted emergency validation to BioNTech-Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, the WHO announced in a statement on Thursday.

The decision should allow countries to quickly approve the import and distribution of the vaccine. 

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine is the first to receive such approval from the global body.

"This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines. But I want to emphasize the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere," the WHO's assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, Dr. Mariangela Simao, said in a statement

"WHO and our partners are working night and day to evaluate other vaccines that have reached safety and efficacy standards. We encourage even more developers to come forward for review and assessment. It’s vitally important that we secure the critical supply needed to serve all countries around the world and stem the pandemic."

Bringing vaccines to poorer nations

The EU has already cleared the BioNTech-Pfizer product, allowing its member states to start mass vaccination campaigns. The US, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia and several other nations have also given it the green light.

However, many countries with weaker healthcare systems rely on the WHO for vetting the vaccine.

On Thursday, the UN agency said the vaccine "met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set by WHO" and that its benefits "offset potential risks."

The organization also said it was "working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible."

The WHO is involved with a global effort to secure and distribute shots to poorer countries. The initiative, dubbed COVAX, aims to deliver the first of nearly 2 billion doses in early 2021.

aw/dj (dpa, Reuters, AP)

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