(AP): The World Health Organisation (WHO) today (Thursday) said that any COVID-19 vaccines it has authorised for emergency use should be recognised by all countries as they open up their borders to inoculated travellers.
The move challenges Western countries to recognize the less effective Chinese vaccines, which the UN health agency has licensed but most European and North American countries have not.
“Any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide and exacerbating the inequities we have already seen in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” a WHO statement said.
The statement further said, “It would negatively impact the growth of economies that are already suffering the most.” The WHO said such moves are “undermining confidence in life-saving vaccines that have already been shown to be safe and effective”.
In its reviews of the two Chinese vaccines, the UN health agency said both were found to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalisations and deaths. The two Chinese shots are inactivated vaccines, made with killed coronavirus, whereas the Western-made shots are made with newer technologies that instead target the “spike” protein that coats the surface of the coronavirus.
Although Western countries have largely relied on vaccines made in the US and Europe, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, many developing countries including Pakistan have used the Chinese-made shots.
In addition to vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the WHO has also given the green light to the two Chinese jabs, made by Sinovac and Sinopharm.
In its aim to restore travel across Europe, the European Union (EU) said in May that it would only recognise people as vaccinated if they had received shots licensed by the European Medicines Agency. The EU drug regulator is currently considering licensing China’s Sinovac vaccine, but there is no timeline on a decision.
Earlier this year, the head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that the effectiveness of its home-grown shots was low. Numerous countries that have used millions of doses of the two Chinese shots, including the Seychelles and Bahrain, have seen Covid-19 surges.