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WHO Authorizes AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine

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Feb. 16, 2021 -- The World Health Organization authorized the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, which will allow the United Nations to distribute doses to low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. With the addition of the cheap and easy-to-store AstraZeneca vaccine, hundreds of millions of doses will go to countries that signed up for the COVAX program to inoculate vulnerable people worldwide, according to The Associated Press.

“Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk,” Mariângela Simão, MD, the assistant- director -general for theWHO’s Access to Medicines and Health Products, said in a statement.

The WHO listed two versions of the AstraZeneca vaccine that can be used for emergency use -- one produced by the Serum Institute of India and one by AstraZeneca-SKBio in South Korea.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, which makes recommendations on vaccine use, reviewed the AstraZeneca vaccine last week. The group recommended the shot for people ages 18 and older, including in countries that have detected variants of COVID-19.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been authorized in more than 50 countries, including Britain, India, and Mexico. The vaccine has been reported to have 63% efficacy and doesn’t require the deep cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine.

The first COVAX shipments are scheduled to go out this month, according to The New York Times. The WHO hasn’t yet announced which countries will receive the first doses.

COVID-19 cases have declined worldwide for the fifth week in a row, but government and health officials need to remain vigilant, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, the director-general of the WHO, said Monday while announcing the AstraZeneca authorization.

“What matters now is how we respond to this trend,” he said during a news briefing. “The fire is not out, but we have reduced its size. If we stop fighting it on any front, it will come roaring back.”

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Sources

The Associated Press: “UN authorizes AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine for emergency use.”

World Health Organization: “WHO lists two additional COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use and COVAX roll-out., “WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 -- 15 February 2021.”

The New York Times: “The W.H.O. formally authorizes the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

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