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Indian and Chinese vaccines to fight Covid-19 seep into Pakistan

Pakistan to use India-made vaccines

Chinese and Made-in-India vaccines to fight Covid-19 are filtering into Pakistan, where a vaccination drive has started with much fanfare.

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines — a total of half a million doses — manufactured by Sinopharm from China is being used for the jabs.

Commercial Minister Counsellor China Xie Guoxiang was the chief guest with the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and other top ministers and officials of the country in the ceremony held in Islamabad on Wednesday. China has donated about 5 lakh doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Pakistan which are yet to be fully approved by China's health authorities – with a further million expected by the end of the month.

The country of 220 million has recorded more than half a million coronavirus cases, with around 11,000 deaths, but limited testing suggests true figures are likely much higher.

 Dr Faisal Sultan, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Imran Khan told the Pakistani newspaper The News, that Chinese vaccine Sinopharm was not recommended for people above 60 years of age due to lack of safety and efficacy data in the elderly and added that its trials were underway to determine efficacy for the elderly, pregnant women and lactating mothers. “Sinopharm vaccine can’t be given to those above 60 years of age due to pending data,” he added, “For the moment (it can’t be given) as the sample size of 60+ persons in phase-3 trails are not adequate.”

That is where the India-made vaccine comes in. Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted Sultan as saying that the country will get the made in India, AstraZeneca through the World Health Organisation (WHO). Sultan declared: "We are pleased to announce that the government of Pakistan, through Covax facility, has secured 17 million indicated doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, out of which 35-40pc (6-6.8 million) doses will be available within the first quarter.”

He added: “Though AstraZeneca is being prepared in India, it will come through Covax, an international alliance which has announced free vaccine for 20pc of Pakistan’s population."

Pakistan eyes Serum Institute of India-manufactured Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as well as Bharat Biotech-ICMR’s Covaxin through bilateral routes. Islamabad can also procure the Made-In-India Covid vaccines through a third country. However, the third country route will push up costs of the vaccine doses.

Despite the fraught relations, pharmaceutical trade between the two countries has been stable. In 2018, Pakistan's pharma imports from India were estimated at more than $62m . Some 60-70% of active ingredients contained in medicines sold in Pakistan are imported from India. More importantly, almost 90% of vaccines administered in Pakistan come from India, according to the Pakistan Pharma Industry, most of these vaccines like polio and others are distributed through Pakistan's state funded immunisation programme which targets 14 million new-borns and pregnant women every year. The children are given jabs against 10 diseases while mothers are inoculated against tetanus.