Pakistan will allow private companies to import coronavirus vaccines and has agreed to exempt such imports from price caps, according to documents reviewed by Reuters, even as the nation scrambles to secure supplies.
The documents show the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination division had sought a special cabinet exemption to allow for such imports while excluding the imported vaccines from the strict price cap regime that is typically applied to all drug sales within the country.
The documents show the federal cabinet has approved the proposal. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan also confirmed the cabinet decision to Reuters.
The decision is significant as Pakistan has yet to secure substantive volumes of vaccines from any companies and it only this month launched a vaccination drive with 500,000 doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine donated by long-time ally China.
Those shots are first being given out to frontline health workers on a priority basis.
Sultan said that Pakistan still planned to inoculate its population for free and only a “small minority” who wish to pay for the shots will have that option in the open market.
“Only those who wish to get it via private sector will pay anything,” he said. “Personally, my assessment is that when the vaccines are available and we have market competition, that will automatically set the prices.”
Pakistan, which has recorded more than 559,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 12,100 deaths, is still largely reliant on the Gavi/World Health Organisation Covax vaccine initiative that is aiming to provide shots to poorer nations.
Pakistan has yet to receive any of the 17 million doses it is expected to get through the Covax initiative.
However, this is not the first time the government has said the private sector will be allowed to procure Covid-19 vaccines. Last month, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said that the federal government would not hold a monopoly on the import of coronavirus vaccines, adding that provinces and the private sector were free to import vaccines subject to approval of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap).
So far, the Drap has approved three vaccines for use in Pakistan — China's Sinopharm, Russia's Sputnik V and the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.
"From day 1, the NCOC has adopted the policy that the federal government shall not have the monopoly to import anti-coronavirus vaccines," he said. "Provinces and private entities including hospitals have been allowed to import the vaccines that are approved by Drap."