By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has bought more than 1 million doses of Chinese Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics COVID-19 vaccines, its first purchase from any manufacturer having previously relied on donations, the government said on Tuesday.
The shots are due to be delivered this month, with talks under way for another 7 million doses from the same companies.
The country is experiencing a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections has recorded 633,741 coronavirus cases and nearly 14,000 deaths, with 3,270 infections and 72 deaths reported in the past 24 hours.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive on Saturday.
"We have purchased 1 million and 60,000 doses of Sinopharm and CanSino vaccines," Asad Umar, minister in charge of pandemic operations, told Reuters. "We will be receiving the consignment before the end of March."
"We want them to deliver that 7 million by the end of April, but they have not confirmed this yet. They might have some supply issues," Umar added.
Pakistan is currently vaccinating frontline healthcare workers and citizens over the age of 60 free of charge using over 1 million Sinopharm doses donated by China.
Pakistan has so far relied on such donations and on allocations from the World Health Organisation-backed COVAX/GAVI scheme for poorer nations.
The first COVAX/GAVI batch of up to 4 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been due to be delivered to Pakistan this month, Umar said, adding it was delayed due to the issues the vaccine was facing worldwide.
Pakistan is aiming to vaccinate around 70 million people out of its 220 million population to reach sufficient community immunity. The country's 100 million under 18s not yet required to be vaccinated.
With 45 million due to be covered by COVAX/GAVI provisions, Umar said Pakistan would need to cater for around 25 million of the population.
Pakistan, one of the first countries in the world to allow private imports of COVID-19 vaccines for sale on the open market, has already received a batch of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and also expects to get a separate batch of CanSino this week for commercial sale.
Authorities expect richer Pakistanis will buy their own vaccination shots through this route, but the commercial administration of vaccines is yet to begin as the government settles pricing issues.
Transparency International has raised concerns about the private sale of vaccines in a letter to the prime minister, saying it will cause inequality and open the door to corruption.
Authorities have proposed a price of 8,449 rupees ($54.30) per pack of two injections of Sputnik V and 4,225 ($27.15) per injection for Convidecia, which will be CanSino's trade name.
According to a mechanism approved by the government, the trade price for an imported vaccine will add 40% mark up to the landed cost, with another 15% for retailers or hospitals.
Umar said the proposed prices were being reviewed after Sputnik V's importers had some concerns, but adding he does not see it changing.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Gareth Jones and Alison Williams)