Photo used for illustrative purpose.
Pakistan has lifted a rule barring the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine for people below 40 years old, in a bid to help inoculate people who need to travel for education or jobs abroad, particularly Saudi Arabia, a health official said.
Pakistan, which relies heavily on remittances from its expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia, has primarily used Chinese vaccines - Sinopharm, CanSinoBio and Sinovac — in its inoculation drive and, till now, only used AstraZeneca for those above 40.
A woman receives a shot of Sinovac vaccine in Karachi. AFP
The Saudi authorities have not approved the Chinese shots, so people with only those vaccinations still need to quarantine, which is unaffordable for many, Faisal Sultan, a health adviser to the prime minister, said.
"From today, we have lifted the restriction for use of AstraZeneca for below 40 years," Sultan told private news channel Geo television on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has approved four COVID-19 vaccines for arrivals wanting to avoid quarantine, namely AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
Pakistan has received 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility.
Sultan said the government was using diplomatic channels to see if Saudi Arabia would approve Chinese vaccines in future.
As of June 11, 1.3% of Pakistan's 220 million people had been fully vaccinated and 3.8% had received at least one dose, mostly Sinopharm or Sinovac, official figures show.
Saudi Arabia is the largest source of foreign remittances to Pakistan, which depends on these funds to support its current account given the country's yawning trade deficit.
In the current financial year, Pakistan received $7 billion in remittances from Saudi Arabia, making up more than a quarter of overall remittances.
Following an EU summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said there was a "new type of world war," adding: "We are looking in particular at Russian and Chinese attacks and attempts to gain influence through the vaccine."
Member states are struggling to contain a third wave of the epidemic and kick-start vaccine programmes slowed by a shortfall in deliveries, and Britain has warned the bloc against resorting "vaccine nationalism."
Crossing the four million does mark comes as result of the efforts made at the country level to contain the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Prevention announced on Friday.
Simultaneous inauguration ceremonies, held in major cities of all provinces as well as in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, were attended by the respective chief executives and other high-ranking officials.
"On this day every year, the wisdom of my brother, President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is manifested by the adoption of 30th November as a day to commemorate our martyrs. On this day 50 years ago, Salem Khamis Suhail passed away while defending the country.
The South Asian nation is home to an estimated 1.5 million transgender people, who face rampant discrimination and violence and are often forced to live by begging or work in the sex trade.
The Ministry stressed in a statement on Monday that its aim to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment.