Declaring developing countries must have "fair and equal access to vaccines," the World Bank has approved $12 billion to vaccinate 1 billion poor people against COVID-19.

The financing will allow developing countries to buy and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. It will help these countries with supply and other things necessary for mass vaccinations.

The bank said developing countries had the right to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Rich countries have bought most of the world's potential vaccine supply through 2021.

This vaccine hoarding by rich countries has boosted fears that poor and vulnerable communities won't be vaccinated, or only sparingly. More than 170 potential COVID-19 vaccines are being developed but fewer than 10 have entered late stage clinical trials. At least two are expected to be ready for mass production by the first or second quarter of 2021.

"We are extending and expanding our fast-track approach to address the COVID emergency so that developing countries have fair and equal access to vaccines," said World Bank president David Malpass.

"Access to safe and effective vaccines and strengthened delivery systems is key to alter the course of the pandemic and help countries experiencing catastrophic economic and fiscal impacts move toward a resilient recovery."

He said the bank's COVID-19 emergency response had reached 111 countries. The $12 billion is part of a wider package amounting to $160 billion to help developing countries fight the pandemic.

The World Bank is also supporting COVAX, the international project to deliver safe and effective vaccines to the world's poorest. COVAX is facing shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines.

COVAX wants to deliver at least 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. It also intends to discourage governments from hoarding vaccines and to concentrate on first vaccinating those at most risk.

COVAX is a partnership involving the World Health Organization, the GAVI Vaccines Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a foundation based in Norway that finances independent research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. COVAX has been coordinating world vaccine development since July.

The U.S. and Russia have refused to join COVAX. China joined COVAX this week.