WHO may soon approve Serum- Oxford Covid vaccine for global rollout under COVAX

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has already been given emergency approval in Britain

The World Health Organization (WHO) is speeding up its regulatory approval mechanism for rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to ‘poorer ‘countries. Several vaccine candidates from Western and Chinese manufacturers are in the fray. Reports suggest, ‘Covishield’ developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will get a nod in January or February.

A COVAX internal document accessed by Reuters also suggests the same vaccine (Oxford-AstraZeneca) produced in South Korea by SK Bioscience can get approval by the United Nations agency by the second half of February. Not just vaccines, regulators usually authorise their manufacturing processes in different plants.

SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla confirming the news said he expects WHO approval in the next week or two. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has already been given emergency approval in Britain, while the European Commission and the United States regulatory body’s approval can come any time.

COVAX, the global scheme to supply vaccine to poorer countries co-led by the WHO, has supply contracts with AstraZeneca and SII for about 400 million doses that can go to many more hundreds of millions of doses, although the timing of deliveries is uncertain.

WHO aims to deliver at least 2 billion COVID-19 doses across the world this year, out of which 1.3 billion doses are earmarked for poorer countries. But, so far, it has failed to secure so many doses due to lack of funds and wealthy nations booking large volumes of vaccines for themselves.

Vaccines developed by western countries

Pfizer-BioNTech received WHO’s approval in December last year. WHO is in talks to seal a deal with the US pharmaceutical giant but it has already committed to supplying millions of doses to wealthy nations. Pfizer was not initially included in COVAX advance purchase shortlist.

Moderna’s Covid vaccine that has already been approved in many Western countries, including in the United States and the European Union also found a place in WHO’s provisional calendar for approval.

The vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that is yet to release its phase III clinical trial results too committed to supplying 500 million doses to COVAX a non-binding agreement over an unspecified period of time. The vaccine is s expected to get WHO approval in May or June at the earliest.

Chinese and Russian vaccines

Chinese vaccine candidates Sinopharm and Sinovac have also filed their applications with the WHO and decision to be made with them is due by March. But neither vaccine was shortlisted for advance purchase deals. Sinopharm has already been widely used for inoculations in China while Sinovac has not released its phase II trial results. Nevertheless, the later has been approved for emergency use in countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was not found in WHO’s provisional calendar, despite its developers having filed the relevant documentation.

India has already committed to sending more than 20 lakh doses of Covishield vaccine to its neighbour Bangladesh. Other neighbouring countries like Nepal. Bhutan and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has also sought assistance from India for the provision of the Coronavirus vaccines to the country. According to media reports, the Indian authorities have assured its neighbours of timely delivery of Coronavirus vaccine to their population.

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