ISLAMABAD - Pakistan began final-phase testing Tuesday of a Chinese-made vaccine against novel coronavirus, the first ever clinical trial of its kind in the South Asian nation.
Officials at the National Health Institute (NIH) said that China had supplied the COVID-19 medication, developed by Chinese biotech CanSinoBio in partnership with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, to Islamabad as part of a trial agreement.
NIH chief Major General Dr. Aamer Ikram told a nationally televised news conference that thousands of volunteers will be enrolled and administered the vaccine for the phase-3 study being undertaken at several major hospitals across Pakistan.
"We are expecting initial results in four to six weeks when 8,000 to 10,000 candidates would have received the vaccine," Ikram said.
He underscored the "safety and efficacy" of the COVID-19 vaccine, saying it has already been approved in China for the Chinese army and police and is being administered to them.
Ikram said it was an "honor" for Pakistan to be among the few countries participating in "the biggest and relatively difficult" phase-3 study of a vaccine, when "the entire world is looking for a medication to combat COVID-19."
Ikram said the vaccine would be available on the market, "once its efficacy proved and the results analyzed in the next four to five months."
The vaccine is already undergoing phase-three, or large-scale testing on humans in several countries, including China, Russia, Chile and Argentina.
COVID-19, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, at the end of December 2019, is an acute respiratory illness ranging in severity from mild to severe, with death in some cases.
Pakistan has documented more than 306,000 infections, including more than 6,400 deaths, since the pandemic hit the country of about 220 million.
However, the number of cases has dramatically and steadily declined in the country since mid-June when the daily rate of infections spiked at more than 6,000.
Officials reported Tuesday that fewer than 600 new patients and only four deaths from the virus had been registered across Pakistan in the last 24 hours.
Pakistan, a staunch ally of China, has received massive Chinese medical and financial assistance since the coronavirus outbreak. Officials in both countries say the cooperation in combating the pandemic has cemented traditionally close relations between the two neighbors.