ISLAMABAD: The government is confident of acquiring the anti-Covid vaccine by the first quarter of the current year but is adopting a ‘look-before-you-leap’ strategy to ensure procurement of a medicine of the highest efficacy.
On the other hand, 45 more people succumbed to the virus during the last 24 hours while 2,417 new patients surfaced in the country.
“Our target is to procure the vaccine in the first quarter of the current year, and we are confident of doing so. But it is quite difficult to say on which date we will acquire the vaccine,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan told Dawn on Friday.
He said the government was under close contact with a few international firms manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We will get the vaccine from the firm which prepares it the earliest,” he added.
A source in the health ministry said the government was eager to procure the vaccine but not in haste. It aims to get a “cost effective and best result oriented” vaccine that could be administered to people, he added.
PM’s aide insists govt hasn’t delayed procurement
The source quoted an example of Brazil where a vaccine was tested but its efficacy was found to be only 50 per cent, whereas the vaccine with 70 to 80pc efficacy was considered successful.
Dr Sultan negated an impression that the government had delayed the procurement of the drug and said it was a matter of days before orders to purchase the vaccine would be placed.
He said trials of the vaccine produced by the Chinese firm, Cansino, were near completion and if its tests were found to be successful, the government would register the medicine with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) for procurement.
The special assistant said although the country had a population of 200 million, 100 million were under the age of 18 years, and therefore would not be vaccinated.
“As 100pc population cannot be vaccinated in any country, we need to target 70pc of the vaccineable population, which is 70 million,” he said.
Dr Sultan said in the first phase, two categories of people would be administered the vaccine - the frontline healthcare workers and people over 65 years of age.
“There are seven million people in the age bracket of 60 and 65 years who will be vaccinated in the second phase along with the remaining healthcare professional,” he said.
“We believe procurement of vaccine for the second phase will start in May as we have been negotiating with five Russian and western companies,” he said, adding that, “around 10 million people will be vaccinated in the first two phases while the remaining 60 million in the third phase”.
Dr Sultan said an international coalition Covax had announced that it would provide Pakistan 50 million free doses (for 20pc population).
“We have set a target to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 70 million people by the end of the current year, however, we are hopeful of achieving the target by November,” he added.
Asked why Pakistan did not pre-book the vaccine, Dr Sultan said countries like United States, Canada and United Kingdom were investing in science for the last 100 years and would not allow pharmaceutical companies, registered there, to sell the vaccine until their requirements were fulfilled.
“Pakistan would not have allowed companies - if we had such firms - to export the vaccine till our needs were met. There is no issue of funds as Prime Minister Imran Khan has given the assurance that they will be provided for procurement. We have also established the Electronic Information System to administer the vaccine smoothly,” he added.
On the other hand, former health minister Saira Afzal Tarar was of the view that although announcements were made, unfortunately funds were not released.
“I suggest that the issue be discussed in the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to ensure transparency in the procurement of the vaccine,” she said.
Opposition leader Syed Naveed Qamar said policies should come from the parliament and CCI given importance.
A prominent microbiologist, Prof Dr Javed Usman, said it was next to impossible for countries like Pakistan to vaccinate their entire population at one go.
“Even the United Kingdom has made a priority list in which elderly people and frontline workers had been included. Similarly in Pakistan it has been decided to vaccinate frontline workers and elderly people first,” Dr Usman said.
He said in the next few months, the vaccine would be available in the market so people, who can afford it, would be able to buy it from the market.
“However, I assume that once the vaccine is available, a large number of people will prefer to wait and see rather than immediately go for the vaccination,” he added.
According to the NCOC data, another 45 people died of coronavirus during the last 24 hours with 2,417 getting infected.
Sindh reported 1,443 new cases, taking the provincial tally to 233,396, said Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in a statement. The province also recorded 14 more deaths, after which the toll has reached 3,769. A total of 13,340 tests were carried out in the province during the last 24 hours.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have collectively reported 369 new cases and 11 deaths, the data revealed.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported 342 cases and 10 deaths, while 27 cases and one death were recorded in Balochistan.
So far, 62,719 people have contracted the virus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 1,762 dying of it.
Balochistan has so far seen 18,515 people getting infected and 189 losing their lives.
Islamabad and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) have collectively recorded 152 new Covid-19 cases, the NCOC data revealed, with one patient succumbing to the virus in AJK.
Islamabad saw another 125 patients getting infected in the last 24 hours while 27 cases and one death were recorded in AJK.
Gilgit-Baltistan has not reported a single new case or death for three consecutive days.
According to the official Covid-19 portal’s figures, Punjab has reported 661 new cases and 22 deaths. The province now has 147,953 confirmed cases while the number of casualties has reached 4,370.
About 2,072 people were reported to have recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, the NCOC data showed.
The total number of recoveries in the country has now reached 469,306.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021