The World Health Organization approved on Friday a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, paving the way for Beijing to extend further assistance to hard-hit developing countries.

It is the first time the WHO has green-lit a coronavirus vaccine developed in a country outside the West. The vaccine has already been administered in China and elsewhere.

Photo shows vials of Sinopharm vaccine. (Anadolu Agency/Getty/Kyodo)

The approval of the Sinopharm vaccine comes as developing nations are struggling to secure vaccine supplies. The vaccine, which Sinopharm says has a 79 percent efficacy rate, is recommended for those aged 18 and older.

China, where the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, has been active in its "vaccine diplomacy" push, providing its coronavirus vaccines to other Asian countries and African nations, among other areas.

With backing from the U.N. health agency, the Sinopharm vaccine could now be included in a U.N.-backed COVAX facility, an international vaccine distribution platform set up to ensure equitable access to shots for developing countries.

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AstraZeneca Plc has provided much of the coronavirus vaccine supply to the COVAX initiative, which aims to deliver 2 billion doses across the world by the end of this year.

However, there has been a delay in vaccine deliveries following restrictions India imposed on exports as the populous South Asian country fights a new surge.

The WHO said in March that deliveries of vaccines produced by Serum Institute of India to lower-income economies under COVAX will be delayed through April. The SII is contracted to provide COVAX with the SII-licensed and manufactured AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine known as Covishield.

The Sinopharm vaccine now joins AstraZeneca and other vaccines -- one developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE, one by U.S. biotech firm Moderna Inc. and another by U.S. company Johnson & Johnson -- in being granted emergency use authorization by the WHO.

Sinopharm is one of China's two major vaccines. A decision by the WHO on the other vaccine produced by another major Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd. is expected soon.