ISLAMABAD: Keeping in view the inconvenience being faced by people intending to travel abroad, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has amended its guidelines on the use of AstraZeneca vaccine to facilitate them.

Under the new guidelines, people over the age of 18 years can now be administered AstraZeneca. Earlier, those aged above 40 years were eligible to receive the vaccine.

On the other hand, Pakistan recorded 838 positive cases, the lowest number detected in the last seven months.

On Tuesday, a large number of people intending to travel abroad staged a protest in Islamabad after they were refused to be given Pfizer vaccine at the F-9 Park vaccination centre.

The protesters demanded that they be inoculated with Pfizer since it was accredited by Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries.

Talking to Dawn, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) spokesperson, Sajid Shah, said only two vaccines — Pfizer and AstraZeneca — were approved by Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries.

“We have only 100,000 doses of Pfizer which can be administered to only 50,000 people as each person is given two doses. The vaccine is also being administered to immuno-compromised persons after it was decided that individuals suffering from chronic diseases such as cancer be given Pfizer,” he said.

“As majority of people working in Saudi Arabia and other countries are below 40 years, it has therefore been decided to amend the guidelines for AstraZeneca. It will now be administered to people over 18 years. Travellers will have to show their passports and other documents to receive AstraZeneca doses,” the spokesperson said.

Replying to a question, Mr Shah said AstraZeneca was available in Pakistan and hoped that more doses of the vaccine would arrive in the coming weeks through Covax.

Covax, an international alliance, has pledged free vaccine for 20 per cent population of Pakistan. One million doses of AstraZeneca and 100,000 of Pfizer have reached the country through the facility.

“We urge the masses to remain calm and get vaccinated with AstraZeneca as it is equally effective and acceptable in Saudi Arabia and other countries,” Mr Shah said.

When asked if AstraZeneca was being given to people over 18 years abroad, the spokesperson said several countries were administering the British vaccine to people in this age group.

According to the guidelines, AstraZeneca can be administered to people over 18 years subject to submission of a consent form. People who have already received the first shot of AstraZeneca abroad and have a documentary proof are eligible for the second dose in Pakistan. For AstraZeneca vaccine, people will have to show their travel documents such as visa and job application. Those who need to complete their vaccination before departure can receive the second dose of the vaccine as it can be safely administered within four weeks of the first jab.

Under the present arrangement, the first dose recipients can receive the second shot after 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, the NCOC data showed that 59 patients died and 838 others got infected in a single day. This figure was the lowest since Oct 30, 2020 when 807 cases were reported.

Moreover, the total number of active cases as of June 15 was 40,929 with 2,855 patients admitted to hospitals across the country.

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 16th, 2021

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