The World Health Organization on Friday approved Chinese vaccine Sinopharm for emergency use in coronavirus patients.

This is the first vaccine developed by a non-Western country to get the global health body’s backing. The WHO had previously only approved the vaccines made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

A WHO emergency listing is a signal to national regulators that a product is safe and effective. It also allows the vaccine to be included in COVAX, the World Health Organization’s global initiative to promote equitable vaccine distribution around the world by supplying them to poorer nations.

The Sinopharm vaccine has already been given to millions of people in China and elsewhere. It is one of the two vaccines Beijing is using in its inoculation programme, according to Reuters.

Its developer, Beijing Biological Products Institute, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group, has said the vaccine was 79.34% effective in preventing people from developing Covid-19, based on interim data, according to Reuters. However, no detailed efficacy data of Sinopharm’s vaccine has been publicly released.

But the WHO on Friday said it had confirmed the “safety, efficacy and quality” of the vaccine, recommending it for adults, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of three to four weeks.

It said the vaccine efficacy for symptomatic and hospitalised patients was estimated to be 79%, all age groups combined.

“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,” the health body added. “Its easy storage requirements make it highly suitable for low-resource settings.”

Besides, this 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, the WHO said.

The Sinopharm shot is an inactivated vaccine, which means the scientists used killed viral particles to expose the immune system to the coronavirus without risking a serious disease response.

The WHO said its emergency use authorisation was an important milestone in the global vaccination programme as it will give poorer nations access to another much-needed shot to contain the pandemic.

“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,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing.

Senior WHO Adviser Bruce Aylward said it would be up to Sinopharm to say how many doses of its vaccine it can provide to the COVAX programme. “They are looking at trying to provide substantial support, make substantial doses available while at the same time of course trying to serve China’s population.” he added.