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Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan has received its first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, with China donating half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to the country, the health minister says.
A Pakistani military aircraft carrying the shipment landed in the Pakistani capital Islamabad early on Monday, Dr Faisal Sultan said.
“Praise be to Allah, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen,” he said.
Video footage showed a forklift unloading boxes of the vaccine from a military transport plane.
Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company, has developed one of two major Chinese vaccines to have been rolled out around the globe, alongside Sinovac’s Coronavac vaccine.
Phase three trials for the Chinese CanSino vaccine are also ongoing in Pakistan, which granted emergency use authorisation for the Sinopharm, AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines last month.
“It currently ranks among top 10 candidate vaccines approaching the end of clinical trials on the WHO list,” says its website.
Monday’s Sinopharm shipment marks the first vaccines to be imported into the South Asian country of 220 million people, where more than 546,000 cases of the coronavirus have been registered since the pandemic began.
At least 11,785 people have died from the virus, with daily case numbers at an average of 1,800 over the last two weeks, according to official data.
The first doses of the vaccine will be provided to more than 400,000 front-line healthcare workers across the country, as per the government’s vaccine roll-out plan.
After that, the shots will be provided to citizens over the age of 65, who generally face a higher mortality risk from the virus.
Pakistan is due to receive a further 1.1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from China by the end of this month, the country’s foreign minister said in January.
It was unclear whether those doses would be of the Sinopharm, Sinovac or CanSino vaccine.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera last month, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said China was also considering starting production of the CanSino vaccine in Pakistan if phase-three trials proved successful.
In addition to the doses from China, Pakistan has also secured supply of 17 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX, a global initiative by the Gavi vaccine alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the World Health Organization, and others.
Up to 6.8 million doses of those vaccines are due to arrive in Pakistan before the end of March, Pakistani health minister Sultan said on Saturday.