ISLAMABAD – The first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Pakistan on Saturday, through the Covax Facility, as reported by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
NCOC announced that 1,238,400 vaccine doses came in the first shipment, which is to be followed by 1,236,000 more doses in the next few days. These doses, it stated, would assist the government in fulfilling their “ongoing historic drive to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The shipment was received by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan, at the National Emergency Operations Centre headquarters where representatives from Covax’s technical and funding partners were also present.
“Further allocations from June onwards will be confirmed in due course. The goal of the Covax facility is to supply Pakistan with enough doses to vaccinate 20 percent of the population depending on availability.”
SAPM Sultan stated that “In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate Covax and Gavi’s (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) contribution to the collective effort to fight Covid-19 in Pakistan.”
He also added that “Sometimes, such crises propel innovation and to this end, we were able to quickly expand the capacity of EPI’s (Expanded Programme on Immunisation) facilities to vaccinate our eligible population against Covid. Recently, we’ve been administering almost 200,000 doses a day and we will be able to increase to 0.5 million doses a day very soon.”
By urging everyone above 40 to register themselves for this vaccination, SAPM Sultan hopes to continue fulfilling the mission of immunising fellow citizens, especially those who are vulnerable and fall in the high-risk category. He said, “Very soon, we will be able to expand the campaign to other age groups and demographics.”
The NCOC also added that the AstraZeneca vaccines would help boost the aim to immunize priority groups such as frontline healthcare workers, senior citizens and others identified in their National Deployment and Vaccination Plan. The statement declared that “more than 3.3m vaccine doses have been administered to healthcare workers and citizens at large.”
It also acknowledged that the The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination had increased the cold chain capacity of the EPI to meet the requirements of the vaccine deployment plan, which it said includes “ultra-cold chain facilities in 15 large cities” as well.
According to the statement, “Sinopharm, Sinovac, CanSino-Bio and Sputnik [vaccine] doses have been administered in Pakistan so far,” and “the 2.47m doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine will be used to immunise about 1.24m high-risk people against the virus.”
Aida Girma, the Unicef representative in Pakistan also commented on this occasion, saying, “Unicef is proud to be leading efforts to procure and supply safe, effective and affordable Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of the Covax facility which aims to quickly reach people in low and middle-income countries and ensures that no one at risk is left behind,”
“Unicef commends the government for its leadership in the national response to the pandemic, including the successful rollout of the national vaccination programme, and thanks the Covax partners for their generous contribution. Solidarity is key to ending the pandemic.”
Alexa Reynolds, Gavi Senior Country Manager for Pakistan said that the vaccines are safe, effective, and would “play an important role in helping the country to end this pandemic”. She also added that, “this delivery — the first of many — is the product of an unprecedented global partnership to ensure no country is left behind in the global race for Covid-19 vaccines.”
Gavi set up this Covax alliance last year in April, which is a Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organisation. Free vaccines for 20 percent of the population of many countries, Pakistan included, have been pledged by this alliance.
“It aims to provide at least two billion doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, enabling the protection of frontline healthcare and social workers, as well as other high-risk and vulnerable groups in what will be the largest immunisation campaign in history,” affirmed the NCOC statement.
Diplomacy through COVAX
Diplomatic missions and Covax donors attended this handover ceremony as well, as reported by the NCOC statement.
Androulla Kaminara, Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan, said: “We welcome the opportunity to concretely show our solidarity with the government and support its efforts to fight the coronavirus through this important delivery of vaccines.
“We are proud to play our part in the global Covax initiative, alongside our partners, as it helps to complement efforts where vaccines are needed. For the time being SOPs (standard operating procedures) still need to be followed.”
While US Embassy Chargé d’affaires, Angela P Aggeler added that “the United States welcomes the successful arrival in Pakistan of 1.2m doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. We remain committed to working bilaterally and multilaterally to support access to vaccines for the world’s most at-risk populations,”
She said this pandemic has brought to light the importance of partnerships, such as the longstanding one between the United States and Pakistan, “which has enabled us to more effectively respond to this health crisis together”.
Dr. Christian Turner, The British High Commissioner to Pakistan commented: “I’m proud of the UK’s role in developing the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine that Pakistan is receiving today. The UK is one of the world’s biggest contributors to the Covax facility — donating £548m to make sure countries get the vaccines they need, including Pakistan.”
“Today’s arrival of the first Covax batch in Pakistan is an important milestone for fighting this pandemic together. It is also a strong token of multilateralism and international solidarity at its best.”
Meanwhile, Dr Philipp Deichmann, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Germany in Pakistan claimed: “Germany, as [the] second largest donor, is proud of contributing to the Covax facility more than 1.5bn euros because we are convinced: An inclusive global access to vaccines is the need of the hour and nobody is safe until everyone is safe!”
The United States Government also welcomed the successful arrival in Pakistan of 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which landed at Islamabad International Airport Saturday.
Health Ministry Guidelines
Ministry of National Health on Saturday issued guidelines with regard to the use and storage of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is to be mentioned here that Pakistan has recently received 1.23 mln vaccine doses of Oxford University’s AstraZeneca.
According to the guidelines, AstraZeneca could be administered to a specific age group of men and women. The vaccine shot could be given to the male aged 18 years or above, and the women above 40 years of age.
In condition of fever, AstraZeneca vaccine should not be administered to a person. “Those infected with coronavirus will be administered the vaccine after recovery from the disease,” according to the guidelines. AstraZeneca vaccine could also be administered to the hypertension, sugar and patients of heart ailment.
The patients of severe diseases and those having blood clotting complaint should not be given AstraZeneca shot, according to the guidelines. A person underwent organ transplant could be administered the vaccine after three months of the surgery.
According to the guidelines, no data is yet available for the use of AstraZeneca vaccine in the people below 18 years of age. AstraZeneca required to be stored at 2 to 8 degree Centigrade temperature. The vaccine will be administered to a person in two doses. The second dose of the vaccine could be administered between four to 12 weeks after the first dose.