ISLAMABAD - Pakistan began its COVID-19 vaccine drive Tuesday, with front-line health care workers slated to receive the inoculations in the first phase.
Prime Minister Imran Khan attended a nationally televised launch event, where a doctor was given the first shot of China's Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine.
Beijing has donated 500,000 doses of the vaccine to Islamabad as a "goodwill gesture" to help the South Asian neighbor deal with the health crisis.
The shots arrived in Pakistan on Monday, making it the first country in the world to receive the Chinese government-donated vaccine.
Khan thanked China for the donation while addressing Tuesday's ceremony in the Pakistani capital.
"The vaccine will be first administered to health workers treating coronavirus patients, followed by elderly persons in the high-risk age group," he explained.
Pakistani officials said the nationwide inoculation drive will be rolled out Wednesday.
The coronavirus situation in Pakistan, a country of about 220 million people, remains relatively under control.
Pakistan detected the pandemic almost a year ago. Officials have since documented more than 547,000 confirmed nationwide cases of COVID-19 infections, with close to 12,000 deaths.
Officials said on Saturday they had also secured 17 million doses of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine through the World Health Organization's COVAX program to immunize Pakistanis against COVID-19.
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 free vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20 percent of the most vulnerable people in more than 90 nations across the globe.
"COVAX's timely support and delivery of the vaccine is testament of global stakeholders' trust in Pakistan's preparedness for vaccine roll out," said Dr. Faisal Sultan, special health assistant to Khan.
AstraZeneca's vaccine has been developed with Oxford University researchers and is being used as part of a mass immunization program in Britain.
Pakistan's drug regulator last month approved both AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines for emergency use in the country.
The government says it plans to vaccinate at least 70% of the country's adult population to achieve herd immunity over coming months.
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 later this month.
Officials said Pakistan is entitled to receive 20 million doses of the Cansino vaccine, provided the trial results "are positive and the vaccine proves to be effective."