The government hopes to procure Covid-19 vaccine in the first quarter of 2021, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Faisal Sultan told the media on Tuesday.
Dr Sultan was responding to a question during a press conference alongside Information Minister Shibli Faraz after a federal cabinet meeting.
"It's a moving target," the premier's aide said of the expected procurement timeline. "I think its first stage will be possible in the first quarter of 2021."
He further said that the federal cabinet had approved the Economic Coordination Committee's (ECC) recommendation to allocate $150 million to acquire a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
The SAPM said that the government will consider multiple factors before procuring a vaccine, which include: the type of vaccine, its efficacy, its safety and side effects, storage requirements, cost, production capacity of the manufacturer and whether Pakistan has access to procure that vaccine. He added that several companies that are working on the development of a vaccine have been shortlisted and initial negotiations have started.
According to Dr Sultan, the vaccine will be administered to the Pakistani population in stages: frontline healthcare workers will be the first priority; in the second stage, the elderly and at risk-population, in addition to other healthcare workers, will get the vaccine; and the common public will receive the vaccine in the third stage.
He said the stages for vaccine administration were decided according to the risk faced by each population group and suggested the vaccine will be given free of cost.
"The government will fund this [and] take on this responsibility so nobody will be burdened," he added.
The prime minister's aide said that while $150m has been approved for vaccine procurement, the authorities will request the government to approve more funds if required. The federal cabinet was also requested to constitute a committee comprising four or five members to oversee the procurement of the vaccine in order to ensure transparency.
"In a nutshell, the federal government approved that a procedure be adopted as soon as possible to make possible the procurement of a safe and effective vaccine," he said, adding that the government will be open to tapping more than one source "including Western and Chinese manufacturers".
Meanwhile, the price of the 100-milligram injection of remdesivir, a drug used to treat Covid-19 patients in specific conditions, has been slashed from Rs9,244 to Rs5,660 in view of prevailing international prices, Dr Sultan said.
Responding to a question regarding World Health Organisation's recent findings on remdesivir, Dr Sultan said that the body had issued a guideline but experts still saw some advantage in its use and it had not been banned.
'Govt won't stop opposition rallies'
Information Minister Faraz opened the presser by once again criticising the opposition for holding an anti-government rally in Multan on Monday in violation of coronavirus health guidelines, saying its leaders only wanted to remain on TV screens and mentioned no solution for the common man's issues in their speeches.
"The poison-filled tone of the PML-N leadership showed they were staging this drama to protect their personal interests, family and illegally acquired wealth," he said.
The minister said the PTI government was not unnerved by any public gatherings but that the current ban on such events should not be seen in a "democratic context". He added that the country's health system could be overwhelmed if the opposition continued to violate standard operating procedures for Covid-19.
"If somebody is adamant on putting people's lives at risk, then the people will hold them accountable," he said.
But even though there is a ban on public gatherings, Faraz said the government will not stop opposition events. "Whoever wants to go they can go, so we see their status. If they hold [events] we will obviously take action against such leaders," he added.
He accused the opposition of helping to spread the virus at a time when "the economy is recovering and jobs are being restored".
Answering a question, the minister ruled out a complete lockdown, saying the government could not "paralyse the entire country" and economy to stop opposition rallies.
During the meeting, the cabinet was also given a briefing on the River Ravi City and Bundle Island projects that the government wants to commence. Faraz said the two projects will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and attract foreign direct investment.