Pakistan on Monday approved $200 million loan as part of its overall plan to immunise nearly 70 million people against the deadly Covid-19 contagion during current year.

The government has planned to procure 146.2 million doses to provide shots to 69.6 million “eligible people” or 70 per cent of the population that can be vaccinated, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

With the $200 million worth of new loan, the country will be able to cover another 13.5 million that are currently not covered under the national deployment and vaccination plan 2021.

“The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) has approved the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for Covid-19 Vaccine 2021 under the Pakistan Preparedness and Response Plan for Covid worth $1.1 billion,” said the Ministry of Planning and Development after the meeting.

Out of the $1.1 billion, GAVI — the vaccine alliance — would provide 95.3 million doses worth $671 million free of cost, according to the health ministry. The rest of the $355 million cost would be met through loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The government wanted to vaccinate 70% of its eligible population or 69.6 million people. As per the health ministry, only 99.5 million of the population is eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination. About 58% of the population, mainly children less than 19 years of age and pregnant women, are not eligible for the Covid jab.

Out of 69.6 million, about 56 million would be vaccinated by taking grant from GAVI and China and a loan from the World Bank.

The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination had sent a letter to GAVI, showing its intent to avail the available window to secure COVAX facility for 20% of the population or up to 45 million people.

“It is likely that limited portion (3%) would be available in the first half of the 2021,” according to the health ministry.

The health ministry informed the CDWP that the ADB has allocated $500 million for Pakistan under its Asia Pacific Vaccine Access facility. The government wanted to take $200 million worth of loan from the ADB out of available financing of $500 million.

This money would be utilised to provide shots to about 13.5 million people.

But the ADB funding would be available only after May this year.

The World Bank and the ADB have offered loans to low and middle income countries to procure vaccines. The WB has recently restructured its worth $153 million Covid-19 related loan, which the health ministry said would be sufficient to cover over 10.5 million population.

Presiding over the meeting, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Jehanzeb Khan directed the ministry to make all necessary arrangements for timely purchase of vaccines and vaccination programme – including arrangements and training of the workforce to address the Covid-19 pandemic as per the international standards.

The novel coronavirus has so far caused 11,623 deaths and there are 543,214 confirmed cases.

Despite timely interventions carried out by the government, the health system and population still faces challenges due to the pandemic.

According to the Technical Experts Committee for Covid-19 vaccines, the estimated amount for vaccination of high risk population of 11 million, including health workers, is $150 million.

The ministry stated that it wanted to include all 18.11 million individuals of above 60 years old in the priority list.

The CDWP also cleared an Rs20.5 billion worth of project for the final approval of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC).

The Rainee Canal Project (Phase-I) was recommended at a cost of Rs20.5 billion to ECNEC. The project envisages construction of 174kms long canal having 609kms long distribution system to irrigate a total cultural able command area of 412,400 acres in the districts of Kashmore, Ghotki, Sukkur and Khairpur. The CDWP directed the water resources ministry to hand over the project to the Sindh government.