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Pakistan says $150m allocated to buy COVID-19 vaccine from international manufacturers

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has allocated initial funding of $150 million to purchase a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine directly from the international market by the second quarter of the next calendar year, to begin immunizing its population of 220 million people, a top government official said on Friday.

Pfizer said this week its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective based on initial trial results, a major victory in the war against a virus that has killed over a million people and shattered the global economy.

Rushing to keep pace with Western drugmakers, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday its Sputnik V vaccine was 92 percent effective at protecting people from COVID-19, according to interim trial results.

One Chinese city is already offering Sinovac Biotech’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine to essential workers and other high-risk groups as part of a national program, for about $60.

“We are in negotiation with different companies that are expected to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine by March next year to procure the sufficient doses,” Dr Malik Mohammad Safi, director general for health at the Ministry of National Health Services, told Arab News.

“We are in the process of advance booking the vaccine from different companies, and the government has also allocated an initial $150 million of funding for the purpose,” Safi said, declining to name the companies but saying funding would be increased if necessary.

Pakistan also expects to receive free COVID-19 vaccine doses from GAVI, the vaccine alliance, to immunize 20 percent of its population, Safi said.

“We have signed an agreement with GAVI to get 90 million doses for 45 million people, and this is expected to be delivered in the third quarter of next year,” the director general said.

He said two doses were required to inoculate one person, and each dose was estimated to cost about $10, but “we will be getting it for free from GAVI.”

GAVI is a public-private partnership that helps provide vaccines to developing countries. A total of 92 low and middle-income countries, including Pakistan, will be able to access COVID-19 vaccines through GAVI’s COVAX Advance Market Commitment. GAVI’s goal is to supply 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

“Since this delivery of free vaccine through GAVI is late, we are making early arrangements to buy the vaccine directly from companies,” Safi said.

He said the government had also assembled a committee of public health and infectious diseases experts from the public and private sectors for technical oversight and to review safety and efficacy data coming in from trials of different COVID-19 vaccines.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan is also working to streamline the regulatory process for “expeditious registration” without compromising vaccine safety and efficacy, Safi said.

Pakistan has been struggling since February to stem the spread of COVID-19 through different techniques, including testing, tracing and mini-lockdowns, along with participation in phase 3 trials for a Chinese vaccine.

Last month, Pakistan’s de facto health chief announced that a second wave of the virus was sweeping the country, and would require new restrictions on social and economic life.

Friday’s data showed 2,304 new COVID-19 cases reported in the last 24 hours, the highest number of daily cases since July and a more than 27 percent increase on the previous day’s caseload of 1,808. Almost 37,000 tests conducted in the last 24 hours showed an infection rate of 6.24 percent.

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