BOGOTA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization may clear AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use as early as this week, a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) official said on Wednesday.
“AstraZeneca’s vaccine is under evaluation. We expect the authorization of emergency use to come out Friday or next Monday,” said PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa during the group’s weekly briefing.
China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac shots may get pre-qualification or emergency use approval by early March, Barbosa added.
The WHO is also evaluating Moderna’s shot.
PAHO previously said it is reserving up to 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Venezuela. The country needs to pay more than $100 million to the COVAX vaccine program to get access, diplomats familiar with the situation have told Reuters.
Though Venezuela should have made its COVAX payment already, given the country’s “difficult” situation, PAHO is asking COVAX to be flexible about receiving the funds, Barbosa said.
Though the Americas reported nearly half of all new global COVID-19 cases over the past week and deaths continue to escalate, some heavily affected countries like the United States and Brazil are showing improvement, PAHO director Dr. Carissa Etienne said during the briefing.
At least three newer, highly transmissible variants of the virus are present in the region, but PAHO is confident COVID-19 vaccines remain useful, she said.
“Based on the evidence we have now on the variants of concern, we are confident that our growing portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines remains useful and will guide us through the end of this pandemic,” Etienne said.
“The challenge now remains to ensure these vaccines are distributed quickly and fairly,” she added.
There were nearly 1.6 million new cases in the region and rising deaths show many health systems remain overwhelmed, Etienne said.
Central American and Caribbean countries and the Amazonian tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru are hubs of rising cases.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot