A special plane of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is on its way to Islamabad with the first batch of the 500,000 vaccine doses that China had promised to provide to Pakistan earlier this month, according to state-run APP news agency.
The plane had left for Beijing earlier on Sunday to bring back the vaccines, according to a statement by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
The NCOC has already decided upon a "comprehensive strategy" for the administration of the coronavirus vaccines and other administrative measures.
"All necessary measures have been put in place for vaccine storage at Islamabad and [transportation] of vaccine to various federating units particularly to Sindh and Balochistan through air," the statement said.
It added that a central control cell has been established at the NCOC while cells have also been set up at provincial and district levels for the vaccination drive.
A day earlier, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said that the Chinese vaccine would be sufficient for 250,000 healthcare workers as two doses were required for every person.
"As 400,000 healthcare workers have registered themselves, it has therefore been decided that instead of considering the population of the federating units, the number of registered healthcare workers would be considered before dispatching the vaccine. In this way, the vaccine can be dispatched for 30pc, 40pc or 50pc of the registered healthcare workers," he said.
The minister said it would take two to three weeks to vaccinate healthcare workers and was hopeful that the new consignment would arrive before its utilisation.
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.
Vaccine administration strategy
Last week, the NCOC unveiled an eight-step process for registration and inoculation once the vaccines became available. Umar had said at the time that the country's Covid-19 vaccination drive would begin this week.
The forum said that an online portal — National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) — has been created which will be operated by the NCOC. Human interaction within the portal will be minimised to keep the system transparent.
In addition to NIMS, numerous Adult Vaccine Centres (AVC) have been established across the country which will be run by the National Vaccination and Administration Control Cell (NVACC). Coordination cells have also been established at provincial and district levels, the NCOC statement said.
AstraZeneca vaccine doses
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan announced on Saturday that around seven million doses of AstraZeneca would also reach Pakistan in the first quarter of the current year.
In his tweet, the prime minister’s aide said: "Happy to share that in addition to the 500,000 doses of Sinopharm, almost 7 million doses of AstraZeneca to be made available in Q1 and given to the public free of cost! Pakistan’s vaccine drive starts next week, beginning with frontline healthcare workers."
The development was also shared by Umar in his tweet, in which he stated that the government had received a letter from Covax, saying that 17m doses of AstraZeneca would be provided to Pakistan in the first half of 2021.
"We signed with Covax nearly 8 months back to ensure availability," the minister tweeted.
Out of the 17m doses, seven million will be available by March.
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.