It is hoped that the decision to list the Chinese vaccine for emergency use will give a boost to the Covax initiative, which has been struggling with supply problems.
“The world desperately needs multiple Covid-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe,” said Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director general for access to health products.
“We urge manufacturers to participate in the Covax facility, share their know-how and data and contribute to bringing the pandemic under control,” she said.
As well as China, the vaccine is already being administered in countries including Chile, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand and Turkey.
Sinovac says it has supplied more than 600 million doses at home and abroad as of the end of May. It says more than 430 million doses have been administered.
One of Sinovac’s main advantages is that it can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius. This means Sinovac is a lot more useful to developing countries which might not be able to store large amounts of vaccine at low temperatures.
The emergency approval came as the heads of the WHO, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank appealed for a $50bn (£35bn) investment fund to help end the pandemic.
In a joint statement they said the world had reached a perilous point, and that inequalities in access to vaccines risked prolonging the pandemic, and many more deaths.