20201117 mRNA vaccine
The Pakistan government has allocated $150 million initial funds for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: The Pakistan government has allocated $150 million initial funds for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine to ensure timely access and availability.

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet has approved the grant of $150 million to secure the doses of COVID-19 vaccine in a meeting chaired by Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.

The approval came after Prime Minister Imran Khan authorized to pre-book the coronavirus vaccine after which the health officials approached two vaccine manufacturers.

10 million to be vaccinated

As many as 10 million people, approximately 5 per cent of Pakistan’s population, will be vaccinated in the first phase, according to health officials. Pakistan’s frontline health workers and people over 65 years of age are likely to get the vaccine first.

Pakistan health ministry is currently in negotiations with two different pharmaceutical companies that are expected to launch coronavirus vaccine by middle of 2021. Pakistan “is in the process of advance booking the vaccine from different companies” after the government allocated $150 million of funding, Dr Malik Mohammad Safi, director general for health at the Ministry of National Health Services has confirmed.

Vaccines from GAVI

Pakistan is also in close contact with COVAX and GAVI (global alliance for vaccine immunization) alliance to negotiate a significant quantity of vaccine and expects to receive between 20 million – 45 million coronavirus vaccines from GAVI by the third quarter of next year.

The Health Ministry has been tasked to formulate a proposal regarding the pricing and risk mitigation mechanism for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine. Pakistan government aims to provide coronavirus vaccines for free to most vulnerable citizens and those who can’t afford it.

Vaccine clinical trials

Meanwhile, Pakistan is conducting its own final-phase clinical trials of two Chinese vaccines. One of the vaccines under phase 3 trials in Pakistan is CanSinoBio, developed by Chinese biotech firm. The trial is expected to take at least another three months and will require final evaluation from China following which it will be millions doses of the vaccine will be sent to Pakistan on a priority basis.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine that has its sub-zero storage requirements, the Chinese single-dose vaccines can be transported in “normal temperatures” making it a “suitable choice for Pakistan”, health experts believe.