ISLAMABAD: While Covid-19 continues to affect a large segment of population, efforts to counter it with effective vaccination campaign are far from being satisfactory and this follows a dismal response to following SOPs causing large-scale illnesses and deaths.

This was stated by Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) Punjab president Dr Shabbir Ahmad Kallu, Dr Iftikhar Burney, PIMA Islamabad president, and other health experts at a press conference at the National Press Club on Friday.

The speakers urged society to take the problem seriously. Government and society both should appreciate the dangers of the pandemic and opt for vaccination before the existing wave goes out of control.

They said Pakistan is passing through a heightened wave of Covid-19 with over 5,000 cases reported daily and a positivity rate of over 10 per cent. The situation in some cities of Punjab and KP is worst since start of the pandemic with acute shortage of hospital beds for sick patients.

Evidence of new strains spreading faster and affecting younger people is adding to the already huge problem. The SOPs to prevent the virus spread were hardly adopted by the population and poorly implemented by the governments except in the initial few months.

The vaccination, despite various limitations, remained the best tool at present to stop the onslaught. While its benefit can only be expected with vaccination of majority of population, the coverage in Pakistan is disappointingly low at below one percent to date. This is lower than India (8pc), Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (4pc each).

As per government figures of April 28, roughly 2.1 million people have been given vaccination in a population of 220 million. The facilities at different vaccination centres are however of general satisfaction.

The failure of mass coverage is believed to be due to misinformation about the vaccination in the community, including fear of adverse effects and lack of efficacy and limited supplies available to the general public.The speakers requested the government to speed up the vaccination campaign on a priority basis. The foremost need is to increase the available stock of effective vaccines for free supply to the population.

It is also the responsibility of the government to maintain the demand and supply of oxygen in the country. They urged the government to plan to increase oxygen production to deal with any situation.

Trusted charitable organisations should be allowed to import vaccines or be supplied on subsidised rates; being non-profit organisations the vaccine can be made available on nominal rates to benefit larger population. More vaccination centres need to be established across the country.

The import of the vaccine should be banned on commercial basis for the time being. Arrangements should be made to eliminate the possibility of vaccine theft so that an incident like Lahore does not happen again, they added.

Immediate arrangements should be made for the preparation of the vaccine at the national level. Vaccine should be made available for healthcare workers indefinitely and eliminate the age limit for free vaccination.

A large-scale vaccination awareness campaign needs to be launched by the government utilising electronic, print and social media. Doubts about efficacy and safety of the vaccines need to be addressed by leading medical experts while public figures announcing their vaccinated status may build up people’s confidence.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2021

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