By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistan military aircraft brought back the country's first consignment of COVID-19 vaccines from China on Monday, the country's health adviser, Faisal Sultan, said.
China's envoy in Islamabad would formally handover the 500,000 doses of vaccine produced by Sinopharm later on Monday, enabling Pakistan to begin its vaccination drive this week, officials said.
"Thank God, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen," Sultan said in a statement released on Twitter.
"I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they'll be first to get vaccinated," he said.
Pakistan has asked China for another one million doses. It has also been pledged 17 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine under a global scheme to deliver coronavirus treatments to developing nations.
About 6 million doses will arrive by the end of March under the COVAX scheme, with the remainder due by mid-year, Sultan announced last week.
Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, reported 1,615 new infections and 26 deaths in the latest 24-hours, taking the total number of cases to 546,428, with 11,683 deaths.
"All eligible citizens as per phases will be informed to register once the vaccine process will start," health ministry announced at its website.
Pakistan signed up last year to the vaccine sharing scheme coordinated by the World Health Organization to support lower-income countries.
Pakistan has approved both the vaccines for emergency use and will review their approval quarterly, officials said.
The Russian Sputnik-V vaccine is also set to be approved for emergency use as the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has accepted its data.
(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi; Editing by Christian Schmollinger & Simon Cameron-Moore)