Pakistan has received the first tranche of 1.2m AstraZeneca vaccines under COVAX scheme designed to help poorer nations.
Pakistan has received the first tranche of 1.2m AstraZeneca vaccines under COVAX scheme designed to help poorer nations. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Pakistan on Saturday received its first consignment of 1.2 million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX initiative to help boost the vaccination drive.

It will be followed by another 1,236,000 doses in a few days to support the government’s vaccination process in the country of 220 million. The 2.47 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine will help immunise about 1.24 million high-risk people in Pakistan.

“In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate COVAX and GAVI’s contribution to the collective effort to fight COVID-19 in Pakistan,” and to help expand the vaccination campaign from vulnerable to all age groups, said Dr. Faisal Sultan, the advisor to the prime minister on health affairs.

The vaccines Pakistan received have been manufactured by South Korea’s SK Bioscience which has “gone through rigorous processes to ensure safety and efficacy” and has been “approved for use in Pakistan” and received the green light from WHO, the official statement said.

3.3 million vaccinated

Pakistan is currently administering almost 200,000 doses a day and will be soon able to increase it to 0.5 million doses every day, Dr Sultan said. Pakistan is vaccinating citizens aged 40 and above free of cost at government health facilities. More than 3.3 million vaccine doses have been administered to healthcare workers and citizens in Pakistan since February. Some districts are also offering at-home vaccination services for senior citizens. The vaccines being administered in Pakistan include Sinopharm, CanSino, Sinovac and Sputnik V.

COVAX to help vaccinate 20% in Pakistan

COVAX facility has pledged to supply enough doses to vaccinate 20% of Pakistan’s population depending on availability. COVAX is a global partnership co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and others to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“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,” said Alexa Reynolds, Gavi senior country manager for Pakistan. “These vaccines are safe, effective, and will play an important role in helping the country to end this pandemic.”

Since the pandemic began, WHO has been supporting Pakistan by providing technical guidance and tools to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond to the spread of the virus, said Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, WHO representative in Pakistan. “WHO’s focus is on supporting Pakistan to end the pandemic, including with these new vaccines and the public health measures.”

Thanking the COVAX partners and commending Pakistan government’s response to the pandemic and the successful rollout of the vaccines, Aida Girma, UNICEF representative in Pakistan said: “Solidarity is key to ending the pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

COVAX donors welcome the arrival of vaccines

Officials from the countries funding the COVAX initiative also attended the vaccine handover ceremony. “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” said Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan, Androulla Kaminara.

British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner said he was “proud of the UK’s role in developing the Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine that Pakistan received.” He added that the UK is one of the world’s biggest contributors to the COVAX facility with £548m support.

German officials termed the arrival of the first COVAX batch in Pakistan “an important milestone for fighting this pandemic together.” Dr. Philipp Deichmann, Charge d’Affaires and DHM at Germany Embassy in Pakistan said that “Germany, as second-largest donor, is proud of contributing to the COVAX facility more than 1.5 billion EUR because we are convinced: an inclusive global access to vaccines is the need of the hour and nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

Welcoming the arrival of 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca in Pakistan, US Embassy Chargé d’affaires Angela P. Aggeler said “the pandemic has 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.”