PAKISTAN RECEIVES FIRST CONSIGNMENT OF COVID-19 VACCINES VIA COVAX FACILITY

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More than one million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine delivered by COVAX to support Government’s efforts to vaccinate high-risk people across Pakistan

Staff Report

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan has received its first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines (SII-AZ AZD1222) from the COVAX Facility.

The consignment of 1,238,400 doses of vaccines, which will be followed by another of 1,236,000 in a few days, will support the Government of Pakistan’s ongoing historic drive to bring the pandemic to an end. 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% of the population depending on availability.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination, welcomed this first consignment together with representatives of COVAX technical and funding partners at the headquarters of the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC).

“In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate COVAX and GAVI’s contribution to the collective effort to fight COVID-19 in Pakistan,” said Dr. Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination. “Sometimes, such crises propel innovation and to this end, we were able to quickly expand the capacity of EPI’s 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. I urge everyone above the age of 40 to register get vaccinated so we can continue our mission to immunize our fellow citizens, especially the ones who fall in the high-risk and vulnerable groups. Very soon, we will be able to expand the campaign to other age groups and demographics.”

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines will supplement the vaccines purchased by the Government of Pakistan and help boost the drive to immunize frontline health workers, senior citizens and other priority groups identified in the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan developed under the leadership of the National Command Operation Center.

More than 3.3 million vaccine doses have been administered to healthcare workers and citizens at large.  The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination also ramped up the cold chain capacity of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) to meet the requirements of the vaccine deployment plan. This also includes ultra-cold chain facilities in 15 large cities. Currently, citizens above the age of 40 can register and get vaccinated by following an easy process. Citizens above the age of 50 can walk into the nearest center and get vaccinated. Some districts are also providing at-home services for senior citizens. Sinopharm, Sinovac, CanSino-Bio  and Sputnik doses have been administered in Pakistan so far.

The 2.47 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will be used to immunize about 1.24 million high-risk people against the virus.

Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine was developed in collaboration with Oxford University and is manufactured by AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD, licensed to and manufactured by AstraZeneca-SKBioscience (AZ-SKBio) in South Korea. It has gone through rigorous processes to ensure safety and efficacy and has been given the greenlight by the World Health Organization to be rolled out globally.

“Over the past year, WHO has been standing side by side with the Government of Pakistan providing technical guidance and new tools needed to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond to the spread of this new virus. Today, we are delighted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine that will safely and effectively prevent needless suffering. This vaccine has gone through clinical trials and has been approved for use in Pakistan and around the world,” said Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, WHO Representative in Pakistan. “Right now, WHO’s focus is on supporting Pakistan to end the pandemic, including with these new vaccines and the public health measures that have been the bedrock of the response for 15 months. We thank the Government of Pakistan for their commitment to ensure these vaccines are swiftly administered all across Pakistan and our health care workers for their hard-work and dedication during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

COVAX, a global partnership, is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO); Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It is funded thanks to generous support from partner governments, foundations and private sector corporations.

The goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines are rapidly available to all countries around the world regardless of income level, to help end the acute phase of the pandemic as quickly as possible. It aims to provide at least 2 billion doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, enabling the protection of frontline health care and social workers, as well as other high-risk and vulnerable groups in what will be the largest immunization campaign in history.

“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 of Pakistan for its leadership in the national response to the pandemic, including the successful roll-out of the national vaccination programme, and thanks the COVAX partners for their generous contribution.  Solidarity is key to ending the pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe”, said Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan. “I urge all those who are eligible to get vaccinated and appeal to everyone to strictly comply with COVID-19 safety measures to curb the spread of virus.”

“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,” said Alexa Reynolds, Gavi Senior Country Manager for Pakistan. “These vaccines are safe, they are effective, and they will play an important role in helping the country to end this pandemic.”

850,131 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Pakistan since the start of the outbreak and 18,677 people have succumbed to the disease so far.

Key preventive behaviours against the coronavirus include regularly washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds or use a sanitizer; wear a mask; remain at least six feet away from other people; avoid crowded places; and stay home when having COVID-19 symptoms.

COVAX technical and funding partners will continue to work with the Government through the pandemic to ensure that no one is left behind.