Science and Technology minister says private sector will be permitted to import any other internationally approved vaccine
Pakistan on Thursday announced that a cabinet committee had authorized the procurement of over one million coronavirus vaccines to cover frontline healthcare workers, with a senior minister saying the government hopes to deploy it within the first quarter of 2021.
“The Cabinet Committee has decided to initially purchase 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm, which will be provided free of cost to frontline workers in the first quarter of 2021,” Science and Technology Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said on Twitter. “If the private sector wants to import any other internationally-approved vaccine, it can do so,” he added.
China has approved for general public use a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm. According to Sinopharm, the vaccine is 79 percent effective—far less than vaccines approved in other countries, but well above the 50 percent threshold that makes a vaccine effective in the eyes of medical experts.
On Wednesday night, Planning Minister Asad Umar—who also heads the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC) leading Pakistan’s fight against COVID-19—said that the government was still awaiting approval for the vaccine by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan.
According to a statement by the NCOC, a National Immunization Management System has been prepared with the joint efforts of the Ministry of Health, the National Database and Registration Authority, and the National Information Technology Board to ensure available vaccines are properly distributed. It said that citizens would have to register themselves through SMS and online for vaccinations, adding that the system would become fully operational by mid-January.
In addition to the Sinopharm vaccine, Pakistan is currently in the midst of Phase III clinical trials for CanSino Biologics’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV. The trial is slated to end around the end of January, with government officials saying it could be available for mass distribution as early as April if it is approved by DRAP.
Despite the welcome news of a vaccine, Pakistan’s current procurement strategy is severely limited, covering less than 0.6 percent of the country’s 220 million population. The announcement comes while the country is coping with a second wave of the coronavirus, reporting 2,475 new infections on Thursday, raising its total confirmed cases to 479,715.