Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday said that the arrival of the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines from Beijing was "practical proof" of the Pak-China friendship.
Earlier today, the first batch of the vaccines arrived in the country from Beijing via a special Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aircraft.
Speaking at the Nur Khan Airbase during the handing over ceremony, which was also attended by China's Ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong, Qureshi said China had once again made a practical demonstration of its friendship with Pakistan.
"This year is even more significant as it marks 70 years since we established diplomatic ties. We have planned to celebrate [the milestone] and open new doors of cooperation and friendship."
Qureshi — on behalf of the government, the prime minister, and the nation — thanked China that had stated since day one that the vaccine would be used for "public good" and to protect people's lives.
"China has demonstrated this [commitment] today and initiated this campaign from Pakistan. This is practical proof reflecting Pakistan and China's friendship."
In addition to thanking Chinese President Xi Jinping, Qureshi also thanked his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
He added that China had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistan in the fight against the coronavirus. "The help that they provided us is in front of the nation and I am thankful to China for that too."
The foreign minister also gave a special mention to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and Chinese doctors for coming to Pakistan and training medical health professionals on how to combat the virus.
"I want to thank the PAF [and] our pilots who flew the plane to Beijing and brought it back immediately. They did not rest for even a minute. They did this service for the people of Pakistan. We are grateful to PAF [and] we are proud of you," he said.
The minister stated that Pakistan and China had also started clinical trials for another Covid vaccine which have now been completed.
"The initial reports are very encouraging. If we are successful, then this will be encouraging news for frontline doctors who have taken countless risks to serve the nation. Our elderly, who are more vulnerable, will also be reassured that the vaccine has arrived."
Thanking China once again, Qureshi said relations between the two countries were "people-centric" and not limited to the two governments. "That is its beauty and strength."
'Pakistan first to get free vaccine from China'
Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong, speaking before Qureshi, said Pakistan was the "first country in the world to receive vaccines donated by the Chinese government", terming it a "manifestation of our brotherhood".
"Pakistan is our closest friend [and] is the priority for our cooperation. We would like to appreciate the Pakistan government for its facilitation in granting emergency approval to [Sinopharm's] vaccine and for conducting the Phase 3 trial [of CanSino vaccine]. We expect more cooperation to follow and more people can benefit from it."
The ambassador too observed that 2021 would mark 70 years of diplomatic ties between Pakistan and China. "We are proud of the friendship that is higher than mountains, deeper than the sea [and] sweeter than honey. Our hearts grow closer in the joint fight against Covid-19," he added.
He said that cooperation between both countries in the financial sector, including CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) projects, would help Pakistan recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus.
First batch arrives in Pakistan
The batch of vaccines, which was brought to Pakistan via a PAF aircraft, contains 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine that has been gifted by China.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health (SAPM) Dr Faisal Sultan announced the development in a tweet and expressed his gratitude to the Chinese government and "everyone who made this happen".
"NCOC and provinces played an instrumental role in tackling Covid. I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they'll be first to get vaccinated," he tweeted.
According to real-time pictures shared with media, the PAF plane had landed in Beijing on Sunday at 7pm (4pm PST) and Sinopharm’s vaccine was loaded on it.
The plane landed at the Nur Khan Airbase in Islamabad on Monday morning.
The government has said it will vaccinate frontline healthcare workers first, adding that around 400,000 health professionals have applied for vaccination.
The registration process of citizens over 65 years would start in the next 10 to 15 days, Planning Minister and NCOC chair Asad Umar had told Dawn.
“As the doses will be stored in Islamabad, there is a possibility that vaccination will start a day earlier in the federal capital compared to the rest of the country,” Umar added.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said arrangements were in place to maintain the cold chain management of the vaccine, right from storing it in a warehouse to its administration to healthcare workers.
“There is a warehouse of the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) which will be used to store the vaccine. Besides, we have developed the National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) through which we will monitor from Islamabad the doses utilised in each province and district and how many more were required. We will ensure that the new stocks are available before the existing ones run out,” he said.
“Not only have we secured 500,000 free doses from our all-weather friend China but another 1.1m jabs, which had been pre-booked from Beijing, will also arrive,” the official said, adding that Covax had also given us a written assurance that it would provide 17m doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the first six months of the ongoing year.
“Out of these 17m, around 7m will be received before the end of March. We are confident that the healthcare workers, citizens over 65 years of age, people in the age bracket of 50 and 65 years and those with chronic diseases will be vaccinated by the end of June,” he added.
Sindh vaccination drive to start from Feb 3
Meanwhile, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho said that the vaccination campaign in the province would begin on Feb 3 as announced previously.
In a video message, she shared details of the campaign, saying only doctors and healthcare professionals would be vaccinated in the first phase. "The vaccine available to us is Sinopharm's vaccine and its efficacy is 90 per cent," she said.
Pechuho also shared a list of the adult vaccination centres (AVCs) that have been established by the Sindh government.
List of AVCs:
- Korangi Hospital, Karachi
- Urban Health Centre, Malir, Karachi
- Ojha Hospital, Karachi
- Qatar Hospital, Karachi
- Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi
- Khaliq Dina Hall, Karachi
- Liaquatabad Hospital, Karachi
- Sindh Government Hospital, Karachi
- Children's Hospital, Karachi
- Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Hyderabad
- Mother and child healthcare centre (MCH), Benazirabad
Elaborating on the campaign, she said that people would be vaccinated on different days and the data would be uploaded to national monitoring systems for "transparent and equitable" distribution.
Last week, Umar had announced that the vaccination drive — which is already underway in several countries — will begin in Pakistan this week, starting with frontline health workers.
Pakistan’s vaccine strategy has been finalised and, after announcement of registration of different segments included in the priority list, citizens will have to send their computerised national identity card (CNIC) number to 1166 through SMS or through NIMS website for registration. After verification, a designated vaccine centre on the basis of the present address mentioned in the CNIC as well as a pin code will be sent to citizens through SMS.
People will have the option to change their vaccine centre by visiting NIMS website or by calling on the helpline 1166 within five days of the receipt of the first SMS. A vaccination centre and appointment date will then be shared.
On the date of the appointment, people will have to reach the centre with their original CNIC and also share their pin code. After administration of the vaccine, the recipient will remain in the centre for 30 minutes for post inculcation monitoring.
So far, Pakistan has 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.