A banner explaining the COVID-19 vaccination process displayed to encourage people to get the jab in Peshawar. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Pakistan has finalised a vaccine agreement to procure 13 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, the health chief Dr Faisal Sultan told Gulf News.

The vaccine doses would be available throughout the course of 2021 under an agreement the government’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) signed with Pfizer Pakistan and BioNTech SE.

The vaccine maker looks forward to “work with the Pakistan government and to marshal scientific and manufacturing resources” toward the shared goal of bringing COVID-19 vaccine to the people of Pakistan as quickly as possible. “In the face of this global health crisis, Pfizer’s purpose – breakthroughs that change patients’ lives – has taken on an even greater urgency. Our hope is that our vaccine will help make this happen” Syed Muhammad Wajeehuddin, country manager Pfizer Pakistan, said in a statement.

Sean Marett, chief business and commercial officer at BioNTech, thanked “Pakistan government for “its support and putting trust” in the company’s ability to develop a vaccine that “has the potential to help address this global pandemic threat.” The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and US firm Pfizer aim to manufacture more than 3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine globally by the end of 2021.

Pfizer in demand

On May 28, Pakistan received 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine through the COVAX facility which has pledged free vaccines for 20 per cent of the country’s 220 million population. However, there is a growing demand for Pfizer vaccines especially among those Pakistanis planning to travel abroad for work and study. Two key factors driving the demand for Pfizer are: blood clot fears associated with AstraZeneca and the perception that the Pfizer vaccine is better. Currently, the government has reserved Pfizer doses for people with low immunity only.

Exhausting supplies

The agreement with Pfizer came soon after Pakistan received 1.5 million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine this week at a crucial time as the country has already exhausted the initial vaccine supplies. Pakistan has administered 13.4 million of the total 16 million doses in its inventory, with about 3.5 million people fully vaccinated, according to the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), which is supervising the pandemic response.

Pakistan’s immunisation campaign has initially been slow amid hesitancy and shortage of vaccines but the drive picked pace last month. Around 250,000 doses are being administered each day currently.

The country has so far received 16 million doses of different vaccines including Sinopharm (6.7m doses), Sinovac (7m), AstraZeneca (1.24m), CanSino (1m) and Pfizer (0.1m). Pakistan has allocated $1 billion for vaccine procurement as the country aims to vaccinate 70 million vaccine eligible people by the end of 2021.

Pakistan has recorded a total of 949,838 cases and 22,034 deaths as of June 22. At least 663 new infections and 27 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.