Pakistan received its first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax facility on Saturday, according to a statement issued by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
The statement said that the first consignment consisted of 1,238,400 vaccine doses and would be followed by an additional 1,236,000 doses in a few days. It added that the doses would serve to support the government's "ongoing historic drive to bring the pandemic to an end".
"Further allocations from June onwards will be confirmed in due course. The goal of the Covax facility is to supply Pakistan with enough doses to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population depending on availability."
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan received the consignment at the National Emergency Operations Centre headquarters with representatives from Covax's technical and funding partners.
“In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate Covax and Gavi’s (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) contribution to the collective effort to fight Covid-19 in Pakistan,” said SAPM Sultan.
“Sometimes, such crises propel innovation and to this end, we were able to quickly expand the capacity of EPI’s (Expanded Programme on Immunisation) facilities to vaccinate our eligible population against Covid. Recently, we’ve been administering almost 200,000 doses a day and we will be able to increase to 0.5 million doses a day very soon," he added.
SAPM Sultan also urged everyone above 40 to register themselves for vaccination so the mission to "immunise our fellow citizens, especially the ones who fall in the high-risk and vulnerable groups" could be continued, said the statement. "Very soon, we will be able to expand the campaign to other age groups and demographics,” he said.
The statement added that the AstraZeneca vaccines would supplement the purchased vaccines by the government and help to bolster the drive to immunise frontline healthcare workers, senior citizens and other priority groups identified in the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan by the NCOC.
"More than 3.3m vaccine doses have been administered to healthcare workers and citizens at large," said the statement, further nothing that the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination had also ramped up the cold chain capacity of the EPI to meet the requirements of the vaccine deployment plan. "This also includes ultra-cold chain facilities in 15 large cities."
“Sinopharm, Sinovac, CanSino-Bio and Sputnik [vaccine] doses have been administered in Pakistan so far,” the statement said.
"The 2.47m doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine will be used to immunise about 1.24m high-risk people against the virus," said the statement.
"Unicef is proud to be leading efforts to procure and supply safe, effective and affordable Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of the Covax facility which aims to quickly reach people in low and middle-income countries and ensures that no one at risk is left behind,” Aida Girma, Unicef representative in Pakistan, said on the occasion.
"Unicef commends the government for its leadership in the national response to the pandemic, including the successful rollout of the national vaccination programme, and thanks the Covax partners for their generous contribution. Solidarity is key to ending the pandemic."
Gavi Senior Country Manager for Pakistan, Alexa Reynolds, meanwhile, said, "This delivery — the first of many — is the product of an unprecedented global partnership to ensure no country is left behind in the global race for Covid-19 vaccines."
She said the vaccines were safe and effective and would "play an important role in helping the country to end this pandemic".
Covax is an alliance set up by Gavi, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organisation in April last year. The alliance has pledged provision of free vaccine for 20pc of the population of different countries, including Pakistan.
"It aims to provide at least two billion doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, enabling the protection of frontline healthcare and social workers, as well as other high-risk and vulnerable groups in what will be the largest immunisation campaign in history," said the NCOC statement.
Covax donors and diplomatic missions
The NCOC statement noted that diplomatic missions and Covax donors also attended the handover ceremony.
Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara said: "We welcome the opportunity to concretely show our solidarity with the government and support its efforts to fight the coronavirus through this important delivery of vaccines.
"We are proud to play our part in the global Covax initiative, alongside our partners, as it helps to complement efforts where vaccines are needed. For the time being SOPs (standard operating procedures) still need to be followed."
“The United States welcomes the successful arrival in Pakistan of 1.2m doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. We remain committed to working bilaterally and multilaterally to support access to vaccines for the world’s most at-risk populations,” said US Embassy Chargé d'affaires Angela P Aggeler.
She added the pandemic had shown the importance of partnerships "such as the longstanding partnership between the United States and Pakistan, which has enabled us to more effectively respond to this health crisis together”.
The British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner said: "I’m proud of the UK’s role in developing the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine that Pakistan is receiving today. The UK is one of the world’s biggest contributors to the Covax facility — donating £548m to make sure countries get the vaccines they need, including Pakistan."
"Today’s arrival of the first Covax batch in Pakistan is an important milestone for fighting this pandemic together. It is also a strong token of multilateralism and international solidarity at its best.
"Germany, as [the] second largest donor, is proud of contributing to the Covax facility more than 1.5bn euros because we are convinced: An inclusive global access to vaccines is the need of the hour and nobody is safe until everyone is safe!" stated Dr Philipp Deichmann, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Germany in Pakistan.