Pakistan special plane off to China to bring back Covid vaccine

By: News Desk      Published: 10:53 AM, 31 Jan, 2021
Pakistan special plane off to China to bring back Covid vaccine
File photo.

A special plane of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) took off for China on Sunday morning to bring back the first batch of coronavirus vaccine comprising 500,000 doses. The plane will return to Pakistan on Monday (tomorrow), reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

The PAF’s IL-78 departed for Beijing from Noor Khan Airbase in Islamabad.

China will send to Pakistan 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine in the first phase, but the authorities have confirmed that Beijing has donated a total of 1.1 million vaccine doses to Islamabad.

The vaccine would be preserved in the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) and National Disaster Management Authority’s (NDMA) cold storage in Islamabad from where it will be transported to the provinces.

The plane left for China amid reports that Pakistan has also secured 17 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine through the World Health Organization's COVAX programme to vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19.

National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) chief Asad Umar announcing ‘good news’ said that Pakistan is expected to receive up to 17 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in the first half of 2021.

Taking to Twitter, the planning minister wrote, "Good news on COVID vaccine front. Received a letter from COVAX of [an] indicative supply of up to 17 million doses of AstraZeneca in 1st half 2021".

He added that six million of the total 17 million jabs will be received by March with delivery starting in February. He did not announce any specific date.

Umar said Pakistan signed with COVAX – an alliance that has been set up by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and World Health Organization (WHO) in April 2020, nearly eight months back to ensure availability.

Meanwhile, Dr Faisal Sultan, special health assistant to the prime minister, said Saturday that almost seven million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be available for Pakistani citizens in the first quarter of the year and the rest within the second quarter of 2021.

Sultan said in a statement that the vaccination drive was expected to start next week, beginning with frontline healthcare workers. “COVAX’s timely support and delivery of the vaccine is testament of global stakeholders’ trust in Pakistan’s preparedness for vaccine roll-out,” he noted.

The WHO’s COVAX is a global programme to vaccinate people in poor and middle-income countries against the coronavirus. The plan aims to deliver at least two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20 percent of the most vulnerable people in 91 nations across the globe.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been developed with Oxford University researchers and it is being used as part of a mass immunization programme in the United Kingdom.

Pakistan’s drug regulator recently approved the vaccine along with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use in the country.

China authorized the use of its Sinopharm vaccine in early January, and it is currently in use in several countries, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Pakistan, in collaboration with China, is also conducting a Phase 3 trial of another Chinese anti-coronavirus vaccine from Cansino Biologics, Inc. The trial is nearly complete and Pakistani officials expect the initial results will be available early next month.

“We are entitled to receive 20 million doses, provided the results are positive and the vaccine proves to be effective,” Sultan announced last week.

The Pakistani government says it plans to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the country’s adult population to achieve herd immunity over the coming months.