The World Health Organization announced on Friday it will give emergency use authorization to the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by China's Sinopharm.
The greenlight for the Sinopharm vaccine to be rolled out globally could pave the way for millions of doses to reach needy countries and boost WHO-backed efforts such as the COVAX initiative, which is a global effort aimed at ensuring access in poorer nations to novel coronavirus vaccines.
The WHO program has already distributed over 54 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The move marks the first time any Chinese-made vaccine has received emergency authorization from the WHO.
During a media briefing, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: "WHO gave Emergency Use Listing to Sinopharm Beijing's COVID-19 vaccine, making it the sixth vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality."
He added: "This expands the list of COVID-19 vaccines that COVAX can buy, and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine."
The Sinopharm vaccine joins a list of WHO approved vaccines, in addition to those made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
"The addition of this vaccine has the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk," said Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant-director general for Access to Health Products. "We urge the manufacturer to participate in the COVAX Facility and contribute to the goal of more equitable vaccine distribution."
The WHO has recommended the jab for people aged 18 to 59 years, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of three to four weeks.
The organization said the vaccine efficacy for symptomatic and hospitalized disease was estimated to be 79 percent, all age groups combined.
Experts say the Sinopharm vaccine is easy to store, making it "highly suitable for low-resource settings".
The WHO said it is also the first vaccine that will carry a vaccine vial monitor, a small sticker on the vaccine vials that change color as the vaccine is exposed to heat, letting health workers know whether the vaccine can be safely used.
Arnaud Didierlaurent, a professor at the University of Geneva's medical school who chairs the advisory group, said it had requested additional studies from Sinopharm, and that there would be "continuous evaluation" of the vaccine and noted that work "does not stop after the listing".
The Sinopharm vaccine has already been authorized by many countries around the world, with some 65 million doses distributed.
Recipients of the vaccine include those in Latin America such as Brazil, Mexico and Chile as well as countries in Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.