Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan is set to receive another batch of 500,000 doses of the Chinese-developed Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, bringing the total number of doses procured in the last 24 hours to more than a million, the country’s health minister says.
On Wednesday, Pakistani health minister Faisal Sultan received a batch of 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and 60,000 doses of the CanSino vaccine procured from northern neighbour China.
“The coronavirus vaccination campaign was started quite a while ago, and it was started with vaccines donated by the Chinese government,” Sultan told reporters at a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday, calling it “an important occasion”.
A further batch of 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine purchased by Pakistan is expected to arrive on Thursday, he said, bringing the total tally of vaccines in the country to more than 2.5 million.
Sultan said the government was also “finalising orders for millions of doses” of vaccines that were expected to arrive by June.
So far, he said 800,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered in Pakistan, a country of 220 million people that has seen slow uptake of the vaccine among some healthcare workers and its senior citizens.
Pakistan’s rate of vaccination of fewer than 0.3 people vaccinated per 100 members of the population is one of the lowest among countries where vaccination campaigns have been launched, according to official data and the Our World in Data dataset.
On Wednesday, the government expanded its vaccine eligibility criteria to include citizens aged more than 50. Citizens who are over 60 years of age and those who work in the healthcare sector remain eligible to receive the vaccine.
Vaccines are currently being provided free of charge to citizens by the Pakistani government. The government has also approved the sale of the Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine, but sales have not yet begun.
Pakistan continues to grapple with a strong third wave of infections countrywide, with daily new infections, active case rises and deaths all being recorded at their highest levels since the country’s first peak of cases in June 2020.
On Wednesday, the country registered 4,974 new cases of the virus, with an active case rise of 2,730 to 53,127 and 96 deaths taking the death toll to 14,530, according to official data.
The actual spread of the virus is likely to be far higher due to limited testing, with the country’s test-positive rate of 9.9 percent far higher than the World Health Organization guideline figure of 5 percent.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.