Pakistan's Covid-19 vaccination drive will be launched next week, starting with front-line health workers, federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar said on Wednesday.
"The system for vaccination is in place. Hundreds of vaccination centres in the country will be administering Covid vaccine," Umar, who is also the head of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), said in a tweet.
“God willing, the vaccination of front-line health workers will start next week,” he added.
China has pledged to donate 500,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine made by the Chinese firm SinoPharm to Pakistan.
Two government sources told Reuters the first batch would be flown in on Saturday.
Pakistan has so far approved three coronavirus vaccines — the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned firm China National Pharmaceutical Group (SinoPharm) and Russian-developed Sputnik V.
Officials say the authorisations will be reviewed quarterly with regard to safety, efficacy and quality.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan has said Pakistan could get “in the range of tens of millions” of vaccine doses under an agreement with China's Cansino Biologics Inc.
Cansino's Ad5-nCoV vaccine candidate is nearing completion of Phase III clinical trials in Pakistan, and preliminary results may be available by mid-February, Sultan said.
The government also expects China to donate a further million vaccine doses.
Dr Ghazna Khalid, a member of the government task force on Covid-19, said Pakistan would procure vaccines from various markets.
“There's going to be an accumulation of vaccines, a consortium available, there's going to be Chinese vaccines, there's going to be AstraZeneca,” she said.
“We are the fifth biggest country in the world, and it's going to be very difficult to immunise.”
Meanwhile, the availability of free-of-cost Covid-19 vaccine seems to have been assured for Pakistan as Covax announced earlier this month that it will acquire 150 million doses in the first quarter and two billion doses by the end of the year.
It further said that, out of the two billion doses, 1.3bn will be provided to 92 lower-income economies. As a result of this agreement, the chances of Pakistan getting the free doses in the first quarter of the current year seem to have brightened.
Talking to Dawn, Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) spokesperson Sajid Shah had said it was a positive development and expressed the hope that Pakistan would get the vaccine in the current quarter.
Earlier today, the NCOC had outlined the country's vaccination strategy against Covid-19, revealing an eight-step process for registration and vaccination once the vaccines become available.
The strategy was developed after consultation with all provinces and relevant stakeholders and is according to established international health guidelines, the NCOC said in a statement.
The country reported 1,563 new coronavirus infections and 74 deaths in the latest 24-hour period, taking the total number of cases to more than 537,477, with 11,450 deaths.