Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan on Thursday warned against complacency in following Covid-19 precautions and said the threat of coronavirus variants remained which the government was keeping a close eye on.
Sultan was addressing a ceremony in Islamabad where he provided updates on Pakistan's vaccination campaign so far. He said the struggle against Covid-19 was "not over yet", adding that after facing the second coronavirus wave, there was now a new threat of Covid-19 variants.
"I think we are keeping a close eye on those and it will require continued vigilance and retooling of efforts to combat this to completion."
He said it was "crucial" to continue with the efforts made so far to tackle the pandemic, citing standard operating procedures, so "we do not give up what's been achieved already".
"Some time period for continuation of these [precautionary] measures, habits and care that we have learned needs to be ensured," he emphasised.
Sultan said the "idea of vaccinations" was directly connected to this strategy of sustained precautions and said the world was fortunate to have many effective Covid-19 vaccines.
"Some of my friends asked me in my infectious diseases role sometimes as to which vaccine they should get. I say get the one you can get a hold of; all the approved vaccines by major authorities carry significant protection [...] against severe disease."
The SAPM said Pakistan was in the process of vaccinating its frontline healthcare workers and "pretty soon with the help of Covax collective effort, we will have the first lot of vaccines by AstraZeneca". He said vaccinations for the general population would start from the first week of March "starting with the older individuals and then working our way down".
He noted that the vaccination programme was proceeding "very well", bolstered by a strong information system which allowed for documentation of not only vaccine deployment, but also documentation for vaccinated individuals in the form of vaccine certificates. "Those will be handy in travel, employment and Haj and so forth," he said.
"I do feel we need to speed it up and wrap it up because the pace isn't what I would be happy about. I think we have some measures and ideas to make it a little bit faster," said Sultan, urging the public to influence and convince people in their social spheres to get vaccinated as vaccines become available.
"I think once we have a significant number of people in the world who are vaccinated, we will start to breathe a little easier."
He added that Pakistan now had a "sustained, sustainable and permanent mechanism" in place to fight off infectious diseases from across the world. "What it shows is that if the right ingredients are put in especially in terms of systems then one can really leapfrog to the front row even when you're a little bit behind."
Pakistan ranks low on list of countries with most tests
As Pakistan continues to see a fall in Covid-19 cases, a website has placed the country on the 29th position in the list of 30 countries that have conducted the most number of tests per million population (PMP).
According to the website, www.worldometers.info, which maintains global data, Pakistan has carried out 39,136 tests per million population, with Indonesia being the only country having conducted fewer tests — 38,135 tests PMP.
Over the last one year, Pakistan has conducted 8.7 million tests overall.