• Sinopharm’s registration expected next week • Minister denies VIPs already vaccinated • NCOC reports over 2,000 infections
ISLAMABAD: In a major development, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) has approved AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use and was expected to register the Chinese state-owned firm Sinopharm’s medicine next week.
Though Pakistan might not get the vaccine through a bilateral agreement as the drug is being prepared in India, it will pave the way for getting free vaccine through Covax for 20 per cent of the country’s population.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan confirmed to Dawn that Drap had approved AstraZeneca while a senior Drap official, on condition of anonymity, said that Sinopharm’s vaccine would likely be registered next week.
However, when asked whether the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available through a bilateral agreement as it was being prepared in India, Dr Sultan said registration should not be mixed with availability or procurement of the vaccine.
“We have registered the vaccine as its efficacy is over 90pc and will try to get it through alternative arrangements. What is more important is that it will enable us to acquire the vaccine through Covax as it cannot be allowed in the country without Drap’s approval,” he said.
Covax is an alliance that had been set up by Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and World Health Organisation in April last year. It has pledged provision of free vaccine for 20pc of the population of around 190 countries, including Pakistan. It is hoped that the first consignment will be received just after the start of the second quarter of 2021.
When the attention of the special assistant was drawn to the trade ban with India, he said life-saving drugs could be imported.
“It is a fact that countries, which have invested in science, will prefer to manufacture the vaccine for their people, but we will make efforts to acquire it. Moreover, we are going to register a few more vaccines, including Sinopharm’s, in the coming weeks as we have a large population and therefore will require vaccines from a number of countries, including China,” he said.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said there was almost no chance of getting the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine as India had already purchased its research and was also manufacturing it. Besides, New Delhi has announced that it will give priority to its own population.
“Our only chance to get the vaccine is through Covax,” the official said, adding that the safety trial of Sinopharm’s vaccine was about to end and would be registered next week.
“Moreover, a few more vaccines will also be approved in the coming weeks which will pave the way for importing the drug through the private sector and ensuring its availability in the market,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar categorically denied that important personalities had already been vaccinated in Pakistan.
Mr Umar said another Chinese company, CanSino, was holding clinical trial in Pakistan and hoped the vaccine would also be registered next month.
Meanwhile, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said 45 more people lost their battle against Covid-19 while another 2,432 contracted the virus in a single day.
Among the casualties was Dr Manzoor Ahmed, who had been serving as deputy director emergency at Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims). He was on ventilator for the last one month.
According to the NCOC data, there were 33,763 active patients in the country with 333 requiring ventilators.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2021