World Health Organization lists Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

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Pfizer and BioNTech’s messenger RNA vaccine was 95% effective at preventing disease symptoms after two doses 21 days apart.

An illustrative photo of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

An illustrative photo of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate was listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, the United Nations health agency said in a statement.

The WHO’s review found that the vaccine met the “must have” criteria for safety and effectiveness set out by the WHO. The WHO stated that the benefits of using the vaccine to address COVID-19 pandemic is acceptable with the possible risks it poses.

European Union (EU) countries including Germany, Austria and Italy have said that they intend to start vaccinations  December 27, hoping to catch up  with US and the UK who already started their respective vaccination programs earlier this month.

Once a vaccine has been listed for emergency use by the WHO, the United Nations (UN) health agency said, it “engages its regional regulatory networks and partners to inform national health authorities on the vaccine and its anticipated benefits based on data from clinical studies to date.”

“This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant-director general for Access to Medicines and Health Products. “But I want to emphasize the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere.

The WHO, together with the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), have launched a global effort dubbed COVAX in an effort to provide the vaccine to low and middle income countries.

The WHO established its emergency use listing (EUL) process to help poorer countries without their own regulatory resources quickly approve medicines new diseases like COVID-19, which otherwise could lead to delays.

The United Nations health agency said it will work with regional partners to tell national health authorities about the two-dose shot and its anticipated benefits.

The program hopes to be able to deliver around two billion doses to these developing countries in the early months of 2021. The alliance is currently in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech in order to secure additional doses.

Even so, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine’s challenging storage and delivery requirements, including keeping it at minus 70 degrees Celsius, have made deliveries challenging in western countries, and may pose bigger hurdles for developing nations without adequate infrastructure.

The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has proved to efficacy of 95% against  coronavirus infections. Already, the US and Britain have authorized emergency use of the vaccine. At publication time Israel is currently the leader in vaccinating its population with the vaccine – it has already vaccinated around 8.6% of the population.

World Health Organization (WHO) experts have pointed to a 65%-70% vaccine coverage rate as a way to reach population immunity through vaccination.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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