ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has purchased 13 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from three Chinese companies and expects to receive them in the next two months, its health minister said on Thursday.
The vaccines were procured from Sinopharm, CanSinoBio and Sinovac, Faisal Sultan told Reuters.
They will supplement around 2.4 million shots from the COVAX program for poorer nations that are expected to arrive during that period.
“We will be continuously procuring from all available sources across the world,” Sultan said. “For now, China remains the primary source for vaccines to meet our present and ongoing needs but all our options are open for effective and safe vaccines.”
Sultan said around 2.4 mln doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, part of the first tranche of 14 mln doses under the COVAX program run by the World Health Organization and GAVI, would also be arriving and it would likely come from South Korea.
Only slightly more than 2 million people have been vaccinated so far in the country of 220 million people, the lowest rate in South Asia.
The COVAX program has committed 45 million doses to the country up to the end of 2021, and deliveries were meant to start in March. However India, making the AstraZeneca vaccination, halted supplies due to its own worsening COVID-19 situation.
“The delay in COVAX meant that our expected volume of vaccination could not materialize in February and March,” Sultan said. “But …the drive is picking up speed.”
Pakistan — scrambling to secure any supplies — started a vaccination drive in February with 1.2 million doses donated by China, and was able to procure over 4 million doses from China in April.
It plans to start giving shots to people aged 40 and over from the first week of May.
Although Pakistan is not seeing the crisis suffered by neighboring India, cases have been steadily increasing and the death toll of 201 recorded on Tuesday was the highest daily toll since the pandemic began.
Pakistan has recorded 17,680 COVID-19 deaths and a total of 815,711 cases.
With the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Fitr approaching, when hundreds of thousands of people would normally attend religious gatherings, the country plans to close non-essential business, tourist spots, parks, entertainment venues and public transport for two weeks starting May 6.
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