By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan will purchase 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm, a minister said on Thursday, the first official confirmation of a vaccine purchase by the South Asian country as it battles a second wave of infections.
China approved a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm on Thursday, its first approved shot for general public use.
"The Cabinet Committee has decided to initially purchase 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm, which will be provided free of cost to frontline workers in the first quarter of 2021," Pakistani Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said on Twitter.
The minister told Reuters the purchase would be of the vaccine candidate developed by Sinopharm's Beijing Institute of Biological Products.
Sinopharm has another candidate, developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, which is also in phase III trials.
Pakistan earlier this month approved $150 million to buy COVID-19 vaccines, initially to cover the most vulnerable 5% of the population, but did not announce which one it would procure, saying it could tap more than one source.
"If the private sector wants to import any other internationally-approved vaccine, it can," Hussain said on Thursday.
The country of 220 million is in the midst of another spate of infections, with 58 deaths on Wednesday taking its death toll past 10,000. It also reported 2,475 new infections, taking the total to 479,715.
Pakistan is currently running phase III clinical trials for CanSino Biologics' vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCoV, led by the government-run National Institute of Health.
Hassan Abbas of AJ Pharma, CanSino's local representative, told Reuters on Wednesday that recruitment for the trial will be completed in 10 days.
"Preliminary results will be shared 4 or 5 days after recruitment is completed, and these will include the efficacy of the vaccine," Abbas said, adding that thus far there have been no serious side effects.
AJ Pharma is one of five companies that have applied for a license to distribute the vaccine in Pakistan once approved, he added.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Umar Farooq in Islamabad, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)