• Over 1.2m doses of AstraZeneca reach Islamabad
• Price of vaccines fixed
• 120 succumb to virus, 4,000 get infected
• Educational institutions to remain closed till 23rd
• Study says UK variant accounts for 70pc of cases

ISLAMABAD: The first batch of over 1.2 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines reached the country on Saturday under the Covax scheme as another 120 people fell victim to the virus.

On the other hand, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) has notified a formula to fix prices of Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, all educational institutions in the country will remain closed till May 23, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has announced.

As Pakistan continues to witness over 100 Covid-related deaths daily for a couple of weeks now, a research centre in Karachi on Saturday expressed concern that there was a high possibility that the variant that has claimed thousands of lives in India has already reached Pakistan since the diasporas of the two countries interact closely in Gulf states.

According to the NCOC statement, 1.23 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine reached Islamabad through the Covax programme.

Covax is an alliance set up by Gavi, Coalition for Epi­demic Preparedness Innova­­tions and the World Health Organisation in April last year. The alliance has pledged to provide free vaccine to 20 per cent of the population of different countries, including Pakistan.

“It aims to provide at least two billion doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, enabling the protection of frontline healthcare and social workers, as well as other high-risk and vulnerable groups in what will be the largest immunisation campaign in history,” the statement said.

It said the first consignment consisted of 1,238,400 vaccine doses, which would be followed by an additional 1,236,000 doses in a few days. It added that the doses would serve to support the government’s ongoing drive to bring the pandemic to an end.

“Further allocations from June onwards will be confirmed in due course. The goal of the Covax facility is to supply Pakistan with enough doses to vaccinate 20pc of the population depending on availability,” the statement added.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan received the consignment at the National Emergency Operations Centre headquarters with representatives from Covax’s technical and funding partners.

“In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate Covax and Gavi’s (Global Alliance for Vacc­ines and Immunisation) contribution to the collective effort to fight Covid-19 in Pakistan,” Dr Sultan said.

“Sometimes, such crises propel innovation and to this end, we were able to quickly expand the capacity of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation’s (EPI) facilities to vaccinate our eligible population against Covid-19. Recently, we have been administering almost 200,000 doses a day and we will be able to increase to 500,000 doses a day very soon,” he added.

Dr Sultan also urged everyone above 40 years of age to register themselves for vaccination so the mission to “immunise our fellow citizens, especially the ones who fall in the high-risk and vulnerable groups” could be continued, said the statement.

“Very soon, we will be able to expand the campaign to other age groups and demographics,” he said.

According to the NCOC statement, AstraZeneca vaccine would supplement the vaccines purchased by the government and help bolster the drive to immunise frontline healthcare workers, senior citizens and other priority groups identified in the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan.

“More than 3.3m vaccine doses have been administered to healthcare workers and citizens at large,” said the statement, adding that the Ministry of National Health Services had also ramped up the cold chain capacity of the EPI to meet the requirements of the vaccine deployment plan.

“This also includes ultra-cold chain facilities in 15 large cities. Sinopharm, Sinovac, CanSino-Bio and Sputnik [vaccine] doses have been administered in Pakistan so far,” the statement said.

“The 2.47m doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine will be used to immunise about 1.24m high-risk people against the virus,” it added.

Speaking on the occasion, Unicef representative in Pakistan Aida Girma said Unicef was proud to be leading efforts to procure and supply safe, effective and affordable Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of the Covax facility which aimed to quickly reach people in low and middle-income countries and ensure that no one at risk was left behind.

Gavi Senior Country Manager for Pakistan Alexa Reynolds said: “This delivery — the first of many — is the product of an unprecedented global partnership to ensure no country is left behind in the global race for Covid-19 vaccines.”

She said the vaccines were safe and effective and would “play an important role in helping the country to end this pandemic”. Meanwhile, the American embassy, in a statement, said the US government welcomed the successful arrival in Pakistan of 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which landed at Islamabad International Airport today (Saturday). 

“The shipment of this vaccine was made possible through the Covax Advance Market Commitment, a global initiative to support equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, it said, adding that the United States contributed $2 billion and will contribute an additional $2 billion through 2022 to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to support Covax, making the country the single largest contributor to global Covid-19 vaccine access.

“This is an extremely difficult time for Pakistan and the rest of the world, and we are proud to stand with the government of Pakistan as partners in addressing the devastating effects the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the country,” said US Embassy Chargé d’ affaires Angela P. Aggeler.

“The United States has been standing side-by-side with our Pakistani counterparts throughout this challenging period to help stop the spread of Covid-19, and we will continue to work together until this deadly disease is under control,” she added.

According to the NCOC data, 4,109 new coronavirus cases and 120 deaths were reported in the country in a single day.

With the latest count, the tally of cases has risen to 854,420 and the death toll has climbed to 18,797.

On the other hand, 4,957 patients recovered from the deadly virus, taking the number of total recoveries to 752,712. According to the NCOC, active Covid-19 cases across the country stood at 82,731.

Sindh has recorded 911 new cases, taking the provincial tally to 291,667. The number of casualties now stands at 4,726 while 676 patients have recovered. A total of 13,079 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir has reported 103 new patients during the last 24 hours, after which the region’s total positive cases have reached 17,866.

Punjab saw another 1,817 people contracting the virus and 60 breathing their last. The provincial tally of positive cases has now risen to 316,224.

Price of Russian vaccine fixed

Drap has notified a formula for maximum retail prices of Covid-19 vaccine.

The notification, published in the extraordinary Gazette of Pakistan, Part-II, states that in exercise of powers conferred by Section 12 of the Drugs Act 1976, the federal government is pleased to provide for mechanism for fixing of maximum retail price of vaccines for Covid-19.

According to the notification, the price of vaccine namely Gam-CoVID-Vac at Rs8,449 per pack (two injections). However, the vaccine will not be sold or distributed in the market and will be administered in private hospitals and institutions.

“Price for Gam-Covid-Vac (Viral Vector 5 and Viral Vector 26) be fixed at Rs8,449 per pack of two injections, Rs16,560 per pack of four injections, Rs40,555 per pack of 10 injections and Rs81,110 per pack of 20 injections,” stated the notification.

Educational institutions to close till May 23

All educational institutions in the country will remain closed till May 23.

The NCOC said a meeting would be held on May 18 during which a decision to reopen educational institutions would be taken after taking into account the coronavirus situation at the time.

“In view of the ongoing disease trends, education institutes earlier closed till 17th May will continue to remain closed till 23rd May,” said the NCOC.

It may be mentioned here that Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood had announced that as per NCOC’s recommendations, all board exams have been postponed till June 15.

UK variant active in Pakistan

According to a research centre studying the disease in Pakistan, a coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom now accounts for up to 70 per cent of infections across the country.

“There is a 60% to 70% prevalence of the UK variant in Pakistan (today),” Professor Dr Muhammad Iqbal Chaudhry, director at the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), University of Karachi, told Reuters, adding that this figure was 2pc in January.

The ICCBS works on Covid-19 samples and provides research and data to the government.

The “UK variant”, known as B.1.1.7 and first identified in Britain late last year, is believed to be more transmissible than other previously dominant coronavirus variants.

Prof Chaudhry added, however, that it was yet to be established if the variant was more deadly.

He also said a variant found in India, which has seen a massive surge of cases in recent weeks, had not been detected in Pakistan yet, but that was because they did not have the kits needed to detect the variant, named B.1.617.

The kits to detect the variant had been ordered and would soon arrive in the country, he said.

The professor said there was a high possibility that the variant had already reached Pakistan since the diasporas of the two countries interact closely in Gulf states.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2021


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