NEWS that the United Kingdom has become the first country to approve the Covid-19 vaccine has been welcomed by a public that has been battered by the virus. With approximately 60,000 deaths and 1.6m infections, the outbreak in Britain has been the deadliest in Europe. Therefore, the availability of a vaccine as early as next week is indeed something to celebrate. Pakistan, too, believes it can procure a vaccine and roll it out in the first quarter of next year, giving hope that there is light at the end of a long, dreary tunnel.

Read: Who, when and how? A look at UK’s vaccination rollout

The Covid-19 graph in Pakistan has spelled doom in the second wave way beyond what was experienced in the first. The spread of the virus throughout the country is worrying, and the continued laxity of the general public may trigger a situation in which the healthcare system is overwhelmed. With a national positivity rate of over 8pc and the number of critically ill patients growing, an all-out nightmare does not seem too far away.

In this situation, the authorities must strategise and focus resources on a mitigation strategy in the short term. If restrictions such as school closures and the limiting of indoor dining do not lower the infection rate substantially, the federal and provincial governments will have to take the difficult decision of imposing a lockdown. It is shocking that public gatherings, weddings, rallies and other large events are continuing unabated in the country.

While some sections of the public and even political leaders go about life in a ‘normal’ way, healthcare workers are paying a heavy price. In the last few days alone, at least 10 doctors have died across Pakistan while 3,000 front-line workers have gone into isolation — a reality which may worsen if this callous behaviour continues.

The long-term challenge for the government is the Covid-19 inoculation once the vaccine is procured. Undoubtedly, healthcare workers, who have worked at an enormous personal cost, will be the first to get it. That the ECC has allocated funds for the vaccine is a welcome sign and shows the government is thinking about the huge task ahead, which may be complicated by the vaccine’s storage and other requirements. The government is considering key features of the vaccines being developed, including their efficacy, safety, side effects, storage, cost, and production capacity.

As the negotiations between the government and vaccine producers take place, it is imperative that attention be given to surmounting the logistical challenges as well as ensuring that there is no profiteering as often happens in such crises. A successful vaccination programme in Pakistan will bring much-needed relief to front-line workers and other vulnerable people, who have spent the greater part of the year living in fear, away from their loved ones and often in isolation. The government owes an effective vaccination strategy to these heroes.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2020

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