WHO hopes poorer nations can access Pfizer vaccine 'very soon'

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO) during an executive board meeting on update on the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization is in advanced negotiations with Pfizer about including the company's COVID-19 vaccine in the agency's portfolio of shots to be shared with poorer countries, a senior WHO official said on Monday.

"We are in ... detailed discussions with Pfizer. We believe very soon we will have access to that product," Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser, said at the WHO's executive board meeting, adding that it would then look to add other vaccines.

The WHO's vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX is set to start rolling out vaccines to poor and middle income countries in February with 2 of 3 billion targeted doses expected to be delivered this year.

WHO already has deals with several suppliers, including AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India.

However, critics say the absence of Pfizer's shot is an important gap and one of the reasons that poorer countries are lagging behind wealthier ones in administering vaccines.

So far, 44 countries out of the 50 that have already begun vaccinations have used the Pfizer shot, WHO data showed.

The vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below which the WHO has said creates difficulties for some developing countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday blamed vaccine nationalism for the inequity, saying the world was on the brink of "catastrophic moral failure" and has urged countries and manufacturers to spread doses more fairly.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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