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WHO authorizes China's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

WHO authorizes China's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday authorized China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, expressing hope that it will boost global access to doses.

The move clears the way for the vaccine to be included in the WHO's worldwide COVAX program.

“The addition of this vaccine has the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk,” Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant director-general for access to health products, said in a statement. “We urge the manufacturer to participate in the COVAX Facility and contribute to the goal of more equitable vaccine distribution.”

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The WHO said the efficacy for the vaccine is estimated at 79 percent, though there are limitations in the data for people over 60 years old, because few in that age group were enrolled.

Still, the WHO said it is not limiting its authorization because "preliminary data" support use of the vaccine in older people as well.

"There is no theoretical reason to believe that the vaccine has a different safety profile in older and younger populations," the WHO said. "WHO therefore recommends that countries using the vaccine in older age groups conduct safety and effectiveness monitoring to make the recommendation more robust."

The two-shot vaccine is relatively easy to store, which raises the hope that it can be used in hard-to-reach areas.

The announcement comes amid a push for more global vaccine access. The United States has said it will provide 60 million AstraZeneca doses, though they are not available right away, and on Wednesday backed a proposal to waive international patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, though that process will also take time to play out.

The Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines are not approved for use in the U.S.