The World Health Organization has cleared a Covid-19 vaccine made by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac for emergency use, opening the way for it to be included in Covax, the sputtering worldwide initiative that low-income countries rely on for the vaccine.
The decision was announced Tuesday, about a month after the agency authorized another Chinese vaccine, made by Sinopharm, for emergency use.
There is dire need for vaccines in countries and regions where the virus is surging, like India, and in much of Southeast Asia and South America. Adding another vaccine to the distribution calculus could help meet that demand.
The struggles of Covax are one factor among many in the growing gap in vaccination coverage between the world’s rich and poor. Covax has been underfunded and behind schedule even before it faced its most significant blow this spring when India, facing a devastating coronavirus crisis, halted vaccine exports.
And the world is nowhere close to having the 11 billion doses that are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population, the rough threshold needed for herd immunity, researchers at Duke University estimate. While global production is difficult to measure, the analytics firm Airfinity estimated in mid-May that the world had so far produced about 1.7 billion doses.
Sinovac’s vaccine, called CoronaVac, was developed using inactivated viruses, a technique that has been in use for over a century.
Clinical trials of CoronaVac in Brazil and Turkey delivered very different results, but both showed that the vaccine protected against Covid-19.
CoronaVac is administered in two doses over two to four weeks, and is easier to store than those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which must be kept frozen for long-term storage.
The W.H.O. director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a news conference on Tuesday that the ease of storing CoronaVac made it very useful for the “low resource settings” that need it most.
“The world desperately needs multiple Covid-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe,” Dr. Mariângela Simão, the W.H.O.’s assistant director general for access to health products, said in a statement.
As of Tuesday, in addition to the two Chines vaccines, the W.H.O. has also authorized vaccines created by Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Dr. Tedros and officials from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group and the World Trade Organization discussed a new push to secure $50 billion to step up manufacturing and distribution of coronavirus vaccines and other medical supplies and treatments to poorer countries.
“An increasingly two-track pandemic is causing a two-track economic recovery, with negative consequences for all countries,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the I.M.F. “Our data shows that in the near term, vaccinating the world is the most effective way to boost global output. In other words, vaccine policy is economic policy.”