December 31, 2020

A health worker receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon, Sunday, December 27, 2020 (AP Photo / Armando Franca)

GENEVA (AP) – The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon have access to the vaccine already available in Europe and in North America.

Each country that has a drug regulatory agency will need to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems typically rely on the WHO to verify vaccines.

The global body said Thursday evening that the decision to release its first validation of emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to speed up their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine. “.

The United Nations 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 essential safety and efficacy criteria defined by the WHO. . “

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the necessary freezers and a reliable power supply may not be available.

“This requirement makes the vaccine more difficult to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it “was working to help countries evaluate their delivery plans and prepare for use when possible. . “

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