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ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination, Dr Faisal Sultan on Saturday said that Pakistan received its first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines (SII-AZ AZD1222) from the COVAX facility.

In a media briefing at the vaccine handing over ceremony along with diplomatic missions and COVAX donors, Dr Faisal said that 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.

He said that further allocations from June onwards will be confirmed in due course while the goal of the COVAX facility is to supply Pakistan with enough doses to vaccinate 20 percent of the population depending on availability.

Dr Faisal welcomed this first consignment together with representatives of COVAX technical and funding partners at the headquarters of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC).

“In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate COVAX and GAVI’s contribution to the collective effort to fight COVID-19 in Pakistan.”

He said: “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.”

He said: “I urge everyone above the age of 40 to register to 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.”

Addressing the ceremony, WHO Representative in Pakistan, Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala said: “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.”

He said: “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.”

“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.”

UNICEF Representative in Pakistan, Aida Girma said: “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 to the COVAX partners for their generous contribution.”

UNICEF Representative said that solidarity is key to ending the pandemic as no one is safe until everyone is safe. “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 the 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.”

“We welcome the opportunity to concretely show our solidarity with the Government of Pakistan 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 still need to be followed,” said Androulla Kaminara, Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan.

“The United States welcomes the successful arrival in Pakistan of 1.2 million 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,” said US Embassy Chargé d'affaires Angela P. Aggeler.

“This pandemic has shown the importance of partnerships, such as the longstanding partnership between the United States and Pakistan, which has enabled us to more effectively respond to this health crisis together.”

“I am proud of the UK’s role in developing the Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine that Pakistan is receiving. 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,” said Dr Christian Turner, British High Commissioner to Pakistan.

“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 and Germany, as a second-largest donor, is proud of contributing to the COVAX facility more than 1.5 billion euro. We are convinced as inclusive global access to vaccines is the need of the hour and nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” said Dr Philipp Deichmann, Charge d’Affaires and DHM, Embassy of Germany in Pakistan.