Pakistan said Thursday it will receive half-a-million free doses of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine by January 31.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the announcement at a news conference, saying his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, shared the “good news” in a phone call between the two officials.
“He told me, ‘Send your aircraft and immediately airlift this drug.’ So, this is a welcome news for us. And we will, God willing, succeed in saving many lives,” Qureshi said.
He stressed that the Chinese vaccine is being gifted to Islamabad as a “goodwill gesture” from Beijing “in view of the all-weather strategic relationship” between the two countries.
Pakistan’s drug regulator approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use on Monday. China approved the drug earlier this month, which is also in use in several countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
The Pakistani regulator last week also authorized the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine developed with Oxford University.
Qureshi said that Wang also promised to make another 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine available for Pakistan by the end of February to meet the country’s additional urgent requirements.
The foreign minister noted that China’s technical and medical expertise had played an “instrumental role” in Islamabad’s fight against the pandemic.
Pakistan is also conducting a Phase 3 trial of another Chinese anti-coronavirus vaccine from Cansino Biologics, Inc.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, special health assistant to the prime minister, said Wednesday at a news conference that the trial was near completion and that 17,500 people participated in it.
He noted that the Cansino vaccine’s “interim analysis” was currently underway, and the initial results will hopefully be available by early February.
“We are entitled to receive 20 million doses, provided the results are positive and the vaccine proves to be effective,” Sultan said.
Pakistan, a country of about 220 million people, has documented at least 527,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, with more than 11,000 deaths since the outbreak was detected late last February.
Sultan said the government plans to vaccinate at least 70% of its adult population to achieve herd immunity. He explained that the existing national Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) is being strengthened to distribute and inject the coronavirus vaccine.
The Pakistani government has said it will provide the COVID-19 vaccine to the public free of cost. The first batch of the doses, however, will be given to frontline health care workers in the first quarter of 2021.
The program is handling several vaccines, including polio. Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where the polio virus remains endemic.