COVAX awaiting WHO's listing of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 01 2021 02:26 PM

MANILA — While the COVAX Facility has confirmed that it will be sending COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines this quarter, those coming from British company AstraZeneca will have to wait to be included in the World Health Organization’s emergency use listing.

WHO, which is a member of the COVAX Facility, an initiative that aims to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, has so far listed only Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. 

The Philippines is already set to receive 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the 2nd or 3rd week of this month, and 5.5 to 9.2 million of AstraZeneca’s vaccine this quarter through COVAX.

“I am aware that the (Philippine) FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has granted EUA (emergency use authorization) for AstraZeneca as vaccine. But WHO still hasn’t granted an EUL (emergency use listing) for AstraZeneca,” WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said during a Department of Health briefing. "For COVAX to deliver vaccines, they must be listed under the EUL of WHO."

“We are in the process of reviewing the vaccine portfolio. We believe that that will be completed within the next week or two. So we are optimistic that the EUL status will be granted to AstraZeneca vaccine,” he added.

While the Philippines’ EUA allows a vaccine to enter the country to be used under the national immunization program, the WHO’s EUL is used as a guide by countries to expedite their own approval process. Although, in this case, the Philippines already approved AstraZeneca by subjecting it to the review of its own scientific panels and referencing the EUA’s of other countries with stringent regulatory authorities (SRAs), like the United Kingdom.

Abeyasinghe said once the WHO includes AstraZeneca in its emergency use listing, “this could potentially free up the movement of vaccines to the Philippines through the 2nd allocation in late February or March.”

He said there are still requirements that the Philippines has to complete, but it is “on track to do that.”

“We are looking potentially at up to a maximum of 9.2 million doses, coming through the COVAX facility. Already in February or March, April of this year. We are optimistic that the remainder of the 44 million doses will also come later on in the year,” the official said.

Abeyasinghe said the WHO is also reviewing Moderna’s portfolio, alongside AstraZeneca’s, for an EUL. Its review of Sinovac’s vaccine may be completed around March.

“The key issue is that, it’s not only about which vaccines can meet the requirements but also the country’s preparedness and readiness,” he explained, adding that COVAX will consider other brands as negotiations and requirements are achieved.

Philippine officials previously said they had to explain to the COVAX facility that the country is ready to receive Pfizer’s vaccine despite its special requirement of ultra cold storage freezers.

The COVAX Facility aims to prioritize health care workers, the elderly and other vulnerable sectors, Abeyasinghe said.

The Philippines has logged 525,618 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Sunday, including 27,318 active infections.

It aims to vaccinate up to 70 million individuals to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.

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