KARACHI: Expressing concern over the continued surge in Covid-19 cases and slow pace of the vaccination process, health experts have called upon the provincial government to immediately take steps for setting up more vaccination facilities by effectively engaging the private sector.
It’s also important, they said, that the federal government simplify the vaccination process by removing the age limit and registration system, requiring only production of a person’s national identity card for getting the jab.
“It’s a crucial time; coronavirus cases are rising amidst limited facilities for vaccination in the country, particularly in Sindh. The only way we can slow down the epidemic is by vaccinating 70 to 80 per cent of our population in four to six months. Else, the vaccination drive will lose its utility,” said Dr Rafiq Khanani, the president of the Infection Control Society of Pakistan.
Call to facilitate charities in vaccine import
He was of the opinion that the government alone couldn’t tackle the epidemic and must involve the private sector.
“The provincial government needs to engage and facilitate the private sector including philanthropic organisations interested in importing the Covid-19 vaccine and providing it at a highly subsidised cost or free of cost to people.”
With one million doses administered, experts regret the govt hasn’t been able to buy vaccines from its own pocket yet
Citing examples of other countries, Dr Khanani said Covid vaccines had proven to be very safe and vaccination was being carried out in mobile container clinics in parks, factories and clinics of general practitioners in countries like India, the UK and the US.
“There were strict requirements when clinical trials of the vaccines were being done and their safety was not established. Now, more than 700 million doses have been injected [across the world] and no acute problems have been reported,” he explained, adding that people who couldn’t visit clinics were being vaccinated at home.
The Sindh government had so far allowed only three private hospitals to offer Covid-19 vaccination whereas governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have approved private labs and clinics to administer Covid-19 vaccine.
Govt accused of favouring certain hospitals
Seconding Dr Khanani’s opinion, Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) accused the provincial government of favouring certain healthcare facilities and ignoring others.
“The government needs to carry out vaccination fairly on a mass scale, engaging all sectors and healthcare facilities. The current pace of vaccination is too slow and if we continue with the same pace, it will take us years to get the whole population vaccinated,” he said.
He added that so far one million vaccine doses had been administered in the country.
Dr Qaiser Sajjad, also representing the PMA, called for a uniform policy and said it’s the government responsibility to provide subsidy to the private sector and regulate the vaccination process so people were not duped into paying a high price for the vaccine.
“Also, there is no age bar for a vaccine candidate at the three private hospitals allowed by Sindh government to conduct Covid-19 vaccination. This makes one wonder why the government has complicated its vaccination process by setting up the 1166 registration system and setting an age limit,” he said, describing the initiative as a failure.
The private hospitals, he pointed out, were offering the Russian Sputnik double-dose vaccine priced over Rs12,000 while the vaccine at government-run facilities was free of cost.
“The reason behind government’s flawed strategy seems to be limited vaccine stocks that too were received in donation. This is regrettable since the government hasn’t been able to purchase vaccines from its own pocket yet,” he said.
Health experts also called upon the government to immediately open vaccination for healthcare workers of all ages.
No government representative was available for comments.
According to the health department data, 170 vaccination facilities are functional across Sindh. Of them, 28 are in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2021