The World Health Organisation has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the jab already available in Europe and North America.
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 the WHO to vet the shots.
The global body 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”.
Dr Norman Einspruch, 88, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Florida (Lynne Sladky/AP)
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”.
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-low 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, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible”.