Islamabad, February 2 (Dawn): Following the arrival of half a million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from China, the vaccination drive is set to begin across the country on Wednesday.
The first batch of the vaccines reached Islamabad early Monday morning from Beijing on a special Pakistan Air Force plane.
The process of dispatching the doses to the provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir has been finalised, but is being kept confidential due to security reasons.
In another development, Chinese company Cansino completed its clinical trial in five countries, including Pakistan, and has sent the data to the International Data Monitoring Committee (IDMC) to officially announce the efficacy rate.
Meanwhile, 1,615 people tested positive and 26 fell victim to the deadly virus in a single day.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi received a batch of 500,000 doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine from Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong at a ceremony held at Nur Khan Airbase on Monday.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood, Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khawaja and National Institute of Health (NIH) Executive Director Maj Gen Aamer Ikram were also present on the occasion.
Mr Qureshi thanked the leadership and people of China for gifting the vaccine to Pakistan to enable it to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the vaccine had arrived at a time when Pakistan was grappling with the second wave of coronavirus, adding that its delivery also coincided with the 70th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The foreign minister particularly lauded President Xi Jinping’s vision that the vaccine, when developed, should be of global public good, and expressed special gratitude to State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi for expeditiously sending the vaccine to Pakistan.
The Covid-19 jabs will be used to inoculate frontline health workers and will play an important role in saving precious lives, the foreign minister added.
Ambassador Nong Rong said: “I am proud to announce that Pakistan is the first country to receive the Chinese government-donated vaccine.”
“President Xi Jinping had repeatedly said that the Chinese Covid-19 vaccines, once developed and put in use, would be global public good,” Nong Rong said, adding that China had honoured its commitment.
He said: “Pakistan, as our closest friend, is the priority of our cooperation. Here, I would like to appreciate the Pakistani government for its facilitation and cooperation in the approval of the emergency use authorisation for Sinopharm’s vaccine and the phase-III trial with the Cansino company of China,” the ambassador added.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, while replying to questions of the general public via telephone on Monday, had said the vaccine would be given to the most vulnerable people.
Talking to Dawn, Special Assistant Dr Faisal Sultan said the vaccine would be dispatched to the provinces on Tuesday and hoped that the inoculation process would start at the earliest.
“Though it is being asked how many doses will be sent to each province, to me it does not matter as the second consignment will reach before the first batch runs out. I have suggested that vaccination should be started in cities and hospitals from where the most cases were being reported,” he said.
Dr Sultan regretted that there were people in Pakistan who were trying to find a conspiracy behind everything, and just like polio they would resist it.
“However, I believe that in the coming days, vaccination will become mandatory for foreign travel, including Haj. People should be aware that the vaccine is essential for them as well as for their family,” he said.
A senior official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said it was a major development as Pakistan had been included in the list of countries that had stocks of Covid-19 vaccine.
“It has been decided to start inoculation from Feb 3 (Wednesday) therefore the vaccine will be dispatched on Tuesday (today). However, due to security reasons, we have decided not to disclose how and at what time it will be dispatched.
NIH Executive Director Maj Gen Aamer Ikram is the focal person dealing with the necessary logistics of the vaccine,” he added.
Cansino completes trial
Cansino Biologics Inc has completed its clinical trial in five countries, including Pakistan, and has sent the data to the International Data Monitoring Committee (IDMC) to officially announce the efficacy rate.
National Coordinator for Phase III Clinical Trial of Cansino in Pakistan Dr Hasan Abbas Zaheer told Dawn that 40,000 volunteers were vaccinated in Pakistan, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Russia.
“Around 18,000 volunteers were inoculated in Pakistan. The global result is encouraging but as we cannot announce data, it has therefore been sent to the IDMC which will make it public. The results will be shared with Drap,” Dr Zaheer said.
University of Health Sciences Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram, while talking to Dawn, said around 6,000 volunteers were vaccinated under his university.
He said only 5pc of the volunteers developed minor fever but not a single casualty or hospital admission was reported.
“The best thing is that the vaccine is single dose and will be administered only once. Moreover another Chinese company, Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biologic Pharmacy Co. Ltd, has contacted us for clinical trial, which will be started after seeking Drap’s approval,” he said.
According to data of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), 1,615 cases and 26 deaths were reported in a single day while the total number of active cases as of Feb 1 was recorded at 33,493.