ISLAMABAD - Pakistan on Tuesday approved $150 million in funding to buy COVID-19 vaccines, initially to cover the most vulnerable 5% of the population, the de facto health minister said.
The initial phase of vaccinations would focus on providing free shots for frontline health workers and people above the age of 65 years, Faisal Sultan told a news conference in Islamabad, adding that the go-ahead for funding the programme had been given at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A panel of experts was compiling a list of recommendations on how to procure the vaccine, Sultan, the prime minister's special adviser on health, said.
"We will see whether we need to tap more than one source, including some Western manufacturers or some Chinese, so we will move forward with all these options," he said.
In making a choice, consideration would be given to the vaccine's efficacy, level of protection and safety, Sultan said, as well as "cold chain" storage requirements and Pakistan's ability to acquire stocks.
An initial conversation has already been opened with several companies, he added.
Pakistan has launched Phase III clinical trials for CanSino Biologics' COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV, led by the government-run National Institute of Health (NIH) and pharmaceutical company AJM - the local representative of CanSino.
The South Asian nation of 220 million closed schools to curb new infections and a rise in the number COVID-19 patients at hospitals in late November.
Pakistan's government reported 67 deaths, the highest single day toll in months, and 2,458 new cases on Tuesday, with 2,165 patients in hospitals in a critical condition.
Overall there have been 400,482 cases recorded in the country so far and 8,091 deaths.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Alex Richardson) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +923018463683;))