Foreign minister says Beijing has agreed to send initial doses as ‘grant assistance’ by Jan. 31
China has committed to provide Pakistan with 500,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of January, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced on Thursday.
In a nationally televised address, he said that he had “great news for the people of Pakistan,” adding that he had contacted his Chinese counterpart on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan to secure initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine in light of the “sensitivity” of the situation. “During our conversation, he [China Foreign Minister Wang Yi] said that Beijing would provide 500,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Pakistan by Jan. 31,” he said, adding that the Chinese minister had said that Islamabad could send over a cargo plane and airlift the initial supply within this month.
According to Qureshi, this initial dose would be provided to Pakistan under “grant assistance,” and would not require any payment. He did not clarify which vaccine he was referring to, but it is likely to be China’s Sinopharm, which has already been granted emergency use approval by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP). Sinopharm’s vaccine has a 79 percent efficacy, and is already being used in Siberia, the U.A.E., and Bahrain.
“I also informed [Wang Yi] that our needs are far greater than [initial 500,000 doses]… we need 1.1 million doses [for frontline workers] in the first phase,” he said, noting that the Chinese minister had said that this could also be accomplished by the end of February.
Under Pakistan’s vaccine protocol, frontline healthcare workers would be inoculated in the first phase, followed by remaining healthcare workers and people over 65 in the second phase, and the general public in the third phase.
According to Qureshi, the Chinese foreign minister had stressed that China had committed to “global public good” in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Keeping in mind our all-weather friendship, the minister assured us that China’s cooperation with Pakistan would continue [during the vaccine phase],” he said.
The foreign minister also noted that he had discussed the CanSino vaccine—whose clinical trials just concluded in Pakistan—with Wang Yi and floated the possibility of Islamabad manufacturing it indigenously. “He was very amenable to the suggestion,” Qureshi added.
Pakistan has yet to finalize any order for coronavirus vaccines, with Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan informing media that negotiations were underway with “multiple vendors” to secure immunizations against the ongoing pandemic. However, he reiterated, that the government would provide the vaccine “free of cost” to the public once it was available.
DRAP has thus far approved two vaccines for use in Pakistan—in addition to Sinopharm, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has also been granted emergency-use approval.