ISLAMABAD: In line with three other Asian countries, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) has allowed Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to be administered to people over the age of 60.
Earlier, the authority had allowed the vaccine to be given to frontline healthcare workers who were below the age of 60 and those above the age group were to be administered the Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine which was due in the first week of the current month. However, its delivery has been delayed for a couple of weeks.
Now Drap has given a go-ahead to healthcare workers over 60 years to get themselves inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine without any delay.
Appreciating the decision, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) secretary general Dr Qaisar Sajjad offered himself for the vaccination. However, he urged Drap to clarify why it was initially not allowing Sinopharm vaccine to be administered to people over the age of 60.
An official of Drap, requesting not to be named, said there was no evidence or study which showed that the Sinopharm vaccine was safe for people over 60 due to which it was decided to give the doses only to those who were below 60.
“It did not mean that the vaccine was hazardous for senior citizens. We took the decision as we did not want to go ahead with it without having a clinical study. We had announced that once people over 60 years of age were vaccinated with Sinopharm, Drap will also allow the vaccine for emergency use in Pakistan,” he added.
“So far the vaccine is being given to the population of over 60 years of age in three Asian countries – China, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. No side effect has been observed in these countries therefore the vaccine can be used in Pakistan as well. Moreover, a study of 339 people was shared by the Chinese company with Drap in which it was claimed that the vaccine was safe and effective for people over 60 years. Therefore, it was decided to approve the vaccine,” the official added.
Sinopharm is the only vaccine that has reached Pakistan after China gifted 500,000 doses. Another consignment of 500,000 vaccines was expected to arrive soon.
Besides, the Pakistan Army had also received a consignment of the vaccine as a gift from China but the armed forces decided to give it to the frontline healthcare workers.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), requesting anonymity, said there was immense pressure from healthcare workers aged over 60 on the unavailability of the vaccine.
“We were hoping that Covax, an international alliance which has pledged free vaccine for 20pc population of Pakistan, will send Oxford-AstraZeneca by March 2 and the inoculation of people over 60 years will start from March 5. However it could not happen as the delivery was delayed,” the official said.
“In the meantime, we have received a study which showed that the Sinopharm vaccine was effective for over 60-year-old people and it was being used in three Asian countries therefore we decided to lift the cap of 60 years on the use of the vaccine,” he added.
The official said so far four vaccines had been approved in Pakistan – Oxford-AstraZeneca, CanSino, Sputnik-V and Sinopharm.
“There was age restriction only on Sinopharm but now all four vaccines can be given to people of any age group except those less than 18 years. I suggest the healthcare workers go for the vaccination rather than wait for a vaccine of their choice as all are effective,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), in a statement, said Drap had approved the emergency use of Sinopharm for people over 60 years.
All registered healthcare workers with the National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) above 60 years can get themselves vaccinated from the designated Covid-19 centres after authorisation by Drap.
NHS ministry spokesperson Sajid Shah told Dawn that it was a major development and now people over 60 years and all healthcare workers could be vaccinated.
“While the government is getting appreciation for it, we believe that there has been a major role of media and healthcare workers in creating awareness among people. We are hoping that there will be a positive response once we receive the vaccine through Covax,” he added.
Dr Qaiser Sajjad told Dawn that he would get the jab and also urged healthcare workers to follow suit.
“Unfortunately there is lack of awareness among healthcare workers which is why they are hesitating. I suggest that they get themselves vaccinated because even if they contract the virus after vaccination, they will show minor symptoms and will not require hospitalisation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NCOC data showed that 1,579 cases and 52 deaths were reported in a single day. The number of active cases in the country as of March 5 was 17,117 while 1,991 patients had been admitted in hospitals in the country.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021