WHO Asks Countries to Approve China's COVID Vaccine for Emergency Use

The World Health Organization (WHO) asked that all countries recognize any COVID-19 vaccine it has approved for emergency use, including the ones made by China, as borders reopen to vaccinated travelers, the Associated Press reported.

The WHO called for Western countries to accept the vaccines produced by China, saying that refusal to accept them was "undermining confidence in life-saving vaccines that have already been shown to be safe and effective."

The U.N. health agency has licensed the vaccines made by Sinovac and Sinopharm, which the agency's reviews said were found to significantly reduce hospitalization and death risks. The other vaccines approved were the shots manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Most European and North American countries have not yet accepted the Chinese vaccines.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Sinopharm Vaccine
The World Health Organization said that any COVID-19 vaccines it has authorized for emergency use should be recognized by countries as they open their borders, in a move that could challenge Western countries to broaden their acceptance of two Chinese vaccines that the U.N. health agency has licensed but most European and North American countries have not. Above, an inmate receives a dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at Chonburi Central Prison in Thailand on June 25, 2021. Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

In its aim to restore travel across Europe, the European Union (EU) said in May that it would only recognize people as vaccinated if they had received shots licensed by the European Medicines Agency—although it's up to individual countries if they wish to let in travelers who have received other vaccines, including Russia's Sputnik V. The EU drug regulator is currently considering licensing China's Sinovac vaccine, but there is no timeline on a decision.

"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 Thursday. "It would negatively impact the growth of economies that are already suffering the most."

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 U.S. and Europe, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, many developing countries have used the Chinese-made shots.

Earlier this year, the head of China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged 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 even with relatively high levels of immunization.

EU Traveler
The World Health Organization said that any COVID-19 vaccines it has authorized for emergency use should be recognized by countries as they open their borders, in a move that could challenge Western countries to broaden their acceptance of two Chinese vaccines that the U.N. health agency has licensed but most European and North American countries have not. Above, a passenger from a flight arriving at Faro leaves the airport outside Faro in Portugal's southern Algarve region on May 17, 2021. Ana Brigida, File/AP Photo