Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday evening oversaw the start of Pakistan's coronavirus vaccination campaign, with the first jab administered to a doctor in Islamabad.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the launch of the drive, the premier congratulated his government's health team for moving rapidly to secure the vaccine and thanked China for donating 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Pakistan.
He reiterated that the vaccine will be first administered to health workers working with Covid-19 patients, followed by the elderly in the high-risk age group.
"This (vaccine) is being distributed equitably among all the provinces so no one thinks we've provided more of it to one province," he said.
Prime Minister Imran urged all healthcare workers to get the vaccine, saying they were most at risk. He also appealed to the public to follow the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) and wear a mask.
"If Allah has blessed Pakistan as compared to the rest of the world, we should be grateful for that and take full precautions," he emphasised. "If there is anything that slows the spread of the virus, it is a mask."
He said the government had reopened schools and would do the same for hospitals, and that Pakistan's Covid-19 cases were "falling". But he stressed that it was important for people to follow the SOPs in order to save lives.
"Look at what is happening in Europe, America — they have had more than 400,000 deaths, [...] while there is a complete lockdown in Britain," the premier said, noting that while some Western countries had shut down their economies, Pakistan's economy was functioning and restrictions were in place only in the services sector.
"If you take precautions, we will open the other sectors as well."
Before the premier's speech, a doctor was given the country's first Covid-19 vaccine shot as Imran and his special assistant on health Dr Faisal Sultan stood watching.
Since reporting its first cases of the coronavirus on February 26 last year, Pakistan has so far confirmed more than 547,000 infections, while 11,746 people have lost their lives due to the disease.
The first batch of the vaccines donated by China had reached Islamabad early on Monday morning from Beijing on a special Pakistan Air Force plane.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said the first tranche of the Covid vaccine had reached all federating units, adding that the doses for Sindh and Balochistan were dispatched by air. It said the provinces' inoculation drive will begin on Wednesday (tomorrow).
Talking to Dawn earlier, SAPM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had said the vaccine would be dispatched to the provinces on Tuesday (today) and hoped that the inoculation process would start at the earliest.
"Though it is being asked how many doses will be sent to each province, to me it does not matter as the second consignment will reach before the first batch runs out. I have suggested that vaccination should be started in cities and hospitals from where the most cases are being reported," he said.
A senior official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said it was a major development as Pakistan had been included in the list of countries that had stocks of Covid-19 vaccine.
Besides the Sinopharm vaccine, the government has also approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Russia's Sputnik V shot for emergency use in Pakistan.
On Saturday, Planning Minister Asad Umar had announced that the government had received a letter from Covax saying 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be provided to Pakistan in the first half of 2021.
Out of the 17m doses, around 7m will be available by March.