EXPLAINER: UN vaccine plan for poor countries nears rollout

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FILE- In this file photo dated Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, a mortuary employee wearing full PPE checks coffins containing the remains of COVID-19 victims in a refrigerated container in Johannesburg. The World Health Organization Monday Feb. 15, 2021, granted an emergency authorization to the coronavirus vaccine made by AstraZeneca, a move that should allow its partners to ship millions of doses to countries worldwide as part of a U.N.-backed program to stop the pandemic.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay, FILE)

GENEVA – It’s nearly launch time for COVAX, the United Nations' unprecedented program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines for hundreds of millions in need around the globe.

More than two months after countries like Britain and the United States started immunizing their most vulnerable people, the U.N.'s health agency gave its approval Monday to a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which should trigger the release of hundreds of millions of doses by COVAX.

COVAX missed its own target of starting vaccination in poor countries at the same time as immunizations were rolled out in rich countries, and numerous developing countries have signed their own deals to buy vaccine, fearing the program won't deliver.

The World Health Organization and partners hope COVAX can finally start shipping out vaccines later this month.

Here’s a look at the project:

WHAT IS COVAX, AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

It's a cooperative program aimed to make sure low- and middle-income countries get equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Some buy them, others get them for free thanks to donor countries and charities.

COVAX hopes to deploy some 336 million doses by the end of June, and around 2 billion doses by the end of the year.