Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday announced that China has promised to provide 500,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Pakistan by January 31.
In a video message after a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Qureshi said China offered Islamabad to send an airplane and airlift the vaccines.
The minister said he held a detailed conversation with the Chinese foreign minister in which he "discussed Pakistan's requirements", after Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed him to increase interaction with Beijing "considering the sensitivity of the situation".
"I want to give the nation the good news that China has promised to immediately provide 500,000 doses of vaccine to Pakistan by January 31," he said.
"They (China) have said you can send your airplane and immediately airlift this drug," he added, saying the development would "help save many lives" in Pakistan.
In a tweet, Qureshi suggested the doses to be provided to Pakistan will be of the Sinopharm vaccine, which the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) had approved for emergency use in the country earlier this week.
"With encouraging results of Chinese vaccine and our historic relationship, Pakistan has approved emergency use authorisation of SinoPharm [vaccine]. Indeed Pakistan greatly appreciates the 500,000 doses of the vaccine gifted by China," he wrote.
The vaccine was developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a subsidiary of state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm. The company announced last month that preliminary data from last-stage trials had shown it to be 79.3 per cent effective.
But Qureshi said he informed his Chinese counterpart that Pakistan's requirement for vaccines is "more than this", and that it will need 1.1 million doses in the near future.
"At this, [the Chinese foreign minister] said 'we plan to fulfil this requirement of yours as well by the end of February and the 1.1m doses will be made available to you,'" he revealed in the video message.
China had decided to work for the "global public good" in the context of Covid-19, Qureshi said, adding that Foreign Minister Wang told him the first country they thought of to assist was Pakistan keeping in view "the all-weather strategic relationship" between the two countries.
"We want to assure Pakistan that our cooperation with you will continue," the minister quoted Wang as saying.
Qureshi also said he and Foreign Minister Wang had discussed that trials of Chinese firm CanSino's vaccine in Pakistan were successfully moving forward and their results had been "quite encouraging".
"Pakistan has a huge population [...] in order to fulfil its needs, we also discussed whether we can move forward together for this (CanSino) vaccine's production and manufacturing in Pakistan after the completion of the new trials," he said, adding that his Chinese counterpart had agreed to the proposal.
The minister said the first batch arriving in Pakistan would be "grant assistance" for which the country would not have to pay anything. "This is a hand of goodwill and friendship that China has extended towards us and I am grateful to them," he added.
Pakistan's vaccine plans
Pakistan has so far approved two vaccines for emergency use, the other being the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
On Wednesday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had expressed confidence in the government's ability to procure at least 1m doses of coronavirus vaccines by March, saying it ultimately aimed to inoculate 70pc of the country's population against the virus.
In addition to bilateral arrangements, the SAPM said, the country will also receive vaccines through Covax, an international alliance that has pledged free vaccines for 20pc population of around 190 countries, including Pakistan.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, had earlier told Dawn there was almost no chance of getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as India had already purchased its research and was also manufacturing it. Besides, New Delhi has announced that it will give priority to its own population.
“Our only chance to get the vaccine is through Covax,” the official had said.
Pakistan had already pre-booked 1.1m doses of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine.
Drap chief executive officer Dr Asim Rauf had told Dawn that the National Institute of Health (NIH) had gotten the Sinopharm vaccine registered in its name. “The approval has been given for emergency use and it will pave the way for bringing the vaccine to Pakistan,” he added.