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Pfizer-BioNTech will ship the first 40 million coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations next month. The WHO's COVAX scheme is aimed at 20% of vulnerable populations this year.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said his UN agency's COVAX scheme had reached a deal with vaccine maker Pfizer-BioNTech for 40 million doses for poorer countries.
Another 150 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine will come in the first quarter of 2021 under COVAX — assuming WHO safety clearance, said Seth Berkley, chief executive of the private-public vaccination fund GAVI.
Addressing a press conference in Geneva, UN agency head Tedros added that fresh US "commitment" under new President Joe Biden to join COVAX meant "that we are closer to fulfilling" the scheme's promise.
Launched last year before vaccines became readily available, COVAX' initial aim is to immunize the most vulnerable 20% of poorer coronavirus-threatened nations. Earlier this week, Tedros blasted rich countries over hoarding.
Pfizer chairman Albert Bourla told the virtual Geneva conference that the initial dispatch would be on a not-for-profit basis, adding developing countries should have "the same access to vaccines as the rest of the world."
The Geneva announcements come as wealthy countries inoculate millions, some using shots procured under bilateral deals, decried officially, for example, by the EU.
Asked how many vaccine doses all manufacturers might produce this year, GAVI's Berkley said: "I think we're talking about numbers in the range of six to seven billion doses."
Chinese and Russian vaccines, if proven safe and efficacious, could also be added to COVAX, Berkley added.
"We still have a lot of work to do," said WHO head Tedros, "but the light at the end of the tunnel continues to grow brighter."
On Thursday, Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to US President Biden, said the USA would join COVAX, reversing ex-president Donald Trump's policy.
Morocco on Friday received 2 million AstraZeneca doses, arriving on a Royal Air Maroc flight from India, whose serum institute (SII) has started exporting that vaccine, developed in conjunction with Britain's Oxford University.
Morocco's health ministry said Rabat also expected on January 27 to receive a Chinese Sinopharm delivery.
The ministry said 3,000 vaccine locations were prepared to initially vaccinate health workers, teachers, the elderly and public officials in areas with higher infections.
ipj/aw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)