Women with masks against COVID-19 walk outside a market in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 25, 2021.
Women with masks against COVID-19 walk outside a market in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 25, 2021.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan announced Saturday it has secured 17 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine through the World Health Organization's COVAX program to vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19.

Additionally, the government said, a plane will fly to China on Sunday to airlift an initial tranche of the 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine Beijing has gifted to Islamabad.

The coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan, a country of about 220 million people, is relatively under control. The South Asian nation detected the outbreak nearly a year ago and has since documented more than 543,000 confirmed COVD-19 cases, with close to 12,000 deaths.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, special health assistant to the prime minister, said Saturday that almost seven million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be available for Pakistani citizens in the first quarter of the year and the rest within the second quarter of 2021.

FILE - A box for a COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at an exhibit by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, China, Sept. 5, 2020.
China to Gift Pakistan 500K COVID-19 Vaccine Doses 
Foreign Minister Qureshi says Sinopharm vaccine will be in Pakistan by January 31 

Sultan said in a statement that the vaccination drive was expected to start next week, beginning with front line healthcare workers.

“COVAX’s timely support and delivery of the vaccine is testament of global stakeholders’ trust in Pakistan’s preparedness for vaccine roll-out,” he noted.

The WHO’s COVAX is a global program to vaccinate people in poor and middle-income countries against the coronavirus. The plan aims to deliver at least two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20 percent of the most vulnerable people in 91 nations across the globe.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been developed with Oxford University researchers and it is being used as part of a mass immunization program in the United Kingdom.

Pakistan’s drug regulator recently approved the vaccine along with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use in the country.

China authorized the use of its Sinopharm vaccine in early January, and it is currently in use in several countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan, in collaboration with China, is also conducting a Phase 3 trial of another Chinese anti-coronavirus vaccine from Cansino Biologics, Inc. The trial is nearly complete and Pakistani officials expect the initial results will be available early next month.

“We are entitled to receive 20 million doses, provided the results are positive and the vaccine proves to be effective,” Sultan announced last week.

The Pakistani government says it plans to vaccinate at least 70% of the country’s adult population to achieve herd immunity over the coming months.

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