ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has increased its funds allocated for purchasing Covid-19 vaccine to $250 million and signed non-disclosure agreements with various multinational companies.
Under the agreement, the recipient country will not make details of the vaccine public.
Earlier, the government had set aside $150m for the vaccine.
Talking to Dawn, Parliamentary Secretary on National Health Services (NHS) Dr Nausheen Hamid said allocation for vaccine purchase had been enhanced to $250 million.
“We will sign a purchase agreement with more than one company to ensure that we get a vaccine (in case any of the available vaccine fails). Russia had also offered us its vaccine recently. However, we are looking into its safety and efficacy as public health is our top priority,” she said.
When asked when the vaccine will be available, Dr Nausheen Hamid said it was hoped that the delivery of the vaccine would start by the end of the first quarter of next year.
“However, we are not going to give the vaccine to everyone. According to our priority list, in the first phase, healthcare workers attending to Covid-19 patients and people over 65 years will be vaccinated. In the second phase the remaining healthcare workers and people over 60 years of age will get preference. Moreover GAVI has also pledged to provide vaccine for 20pc population which comes to 450 million people,” she said.
By the end of 2021, it would be available to the masses, Dr Nausheen Hamid added.
Replying to another question, the parliamentary secretary said Pfizer had offered special containers to maintain the cold chain, adding that the vaccine could be kept in normal freezers for five days.
A senior official of the NHS ministry, requesting not to be quoted, said there were six potential companies across the globe and the ministry was not only engaged with them but had signed non-disclosure agreements with some of them due to which they were sharing data and progress of vaccine trials.
“The Chinese vaccine is also under trial in Pakistan so we will get the vaccine on a priority basis. As per assurances given by the companies we may get between 100,000 and 500,000 doses by the end of February or in March. The vaccine will be administered to the most vulnerable people such as healthcare professionals working with Covid-19 patients,” he said.
When asked why the vaccine cannot be arranged in the current month or at the start of next year, the official said Pakistan was a developing country and funds could go to waste as there was a risk factor involved.
“Canada’s population is only 40 million but it has made advance payments to different companies for 250 million doses. Over six times the doses have been booked as some companies can declare failure of research anytime,” he said.
“Besides, we are part of the Covax by Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) in which there are 189 countries and we will get free vaccine for 20pc of the population. I hope that we will acquire the vaccine for 3pc of our population in the second quarter of 2021 and the remaining by the end of 2021. However, there will be questions about the cold chain management of the vaccine as it would not be easy to provide the vaccine across the country,” the official added.
He said when the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) was taken onboard for rules on vaccine registration, it said any vaccine registered in developed countries could be immediately allowed for emergency use.
“However that reply has put a question mark on the Chinese vaccine as I fear that it (Chinese vaccine) might not be registered in developed countries and a detailed study will be required for the registration of the vaccine with Drap,” he added.
When contacted, Head of Polio Programme and Expanded Programme of Immunisation Dr Rana Safdar agreed that there was an issue of cold chain management.
“We have been reviewing our cold chain management system to ensure supply of the vaccine across the country. Though cold storages for maintaining -70 degree Celsius can be arranged easily, they will only be used for Covid-19 vaccine as other vaccines are stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius,” he said.
Dr Safdar said it could be suggested to multinational companies to provide Covid-19 vaccines in different cities as the vaccine could be stored in normal freezers for up to five days.
On the other hand, some health experts have suggested adopting wait-and-see policy as there could be chronic effects of the vaccine such as early diabetes and arthritis.
Microbiologist Prof Dr Javaid Usman told Dawn that though the United Kingdom, United States and some other countries have allowed emergency use of the vaccine, it was too early even for them.
“It may take 10 months to one year to see if the vaccines have any chronic effects. Though the US has allowed emergency use, I am sure it will take some time for it to cover bulk of the population. We are in no way late as there can be side effects of the vaccine. In the past people stopped getting their children administered measles vaccine after a research was published in a renowned journal which said autism was developing among children due to the vaccine,” Prof Usman added.
“Quality of vaccine, efficacy and availability should be considered before administering it. Moreover there is a possibility that the vaccine might stop working as the virus has been mutating. This is why every year new influenza vaccine is launched because the virus mutates itself,” he added.
According to data released by the National Command and Operation Centre, 2,729 new cases and 71 deaths were reported in a single day.
The data showed that 67 per cent ventilators were occupied in Multan, 51pc in Islamabad, 36pc in Lahore and 31pc were occupied in Peshawar. Overall 355 vents were in use throughout the country.
The national positivity ratio stood at 6.59pc with the highest observed in Karachi at 20.88pc, followed by Peshawar at 15.05pc and Muzaffarabad, 11.2pc.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2020