ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan witnesses the first Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine being administered to a frontline health worker on Tuesday. – AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will begin administering a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine to frontline health workers yesterday, but the country is still months away from a mass roll-out. Beijing has donated about 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine-which has yet to be fully approved by China's health authorities-with a further million expected by the end of the month.

The country of 220 million has recorded more than half a million coronavirus cases, with around 11,000 deaths, but limited testing suggests true figures are likely much higher. Lawmaker Nausheen Hamid, who leads parliament's health committee, said a first phase of vaccinations would prioritize health workers. "I can't say with certainty, but we would still need around two months to start a mass vaccination campaign," she added.

The Sindh province health authority said around 100 health workers nationwide had died since the virus reached the world's fifth most populous country last spring. Pulmonologist and COVID-19 expert Shazli Manzoor told AFP that the Chinese vaccine suited impoverished Pakistan because it could be stored at between two and eight degrees Celsius (36 and 46 Fahrenheit), compared to -70 degrees Celsius for other vaccines. He said the government would set up special clinics to monitor how the population was responding to the vaccinations.

Some doctors have questioned how effective the vaccine will be. "It lacks transparency and data compared to other vaccines," one Pakistani health expert told AFP. Up to 17 million doses of the British-Swedish produced AstraZeneca vaccine have been promised to Pakistan in the first half of 2021 under the Covax global pool, the government has said.

Pakistan was not included on a list of countries in the region to receive vaccines from neighboring India, which is home to the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute. A doctor in Islamabad was the first health worker to receive the jab in a symbolic ceremony in front of Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday night.-AFP