THE vaccination rate in the country has slowed in recent days and could result in a crisis if not addressed efficiently. After hitting the 130,000 mark for doses earlier this week, vaccine centres across the country on Thursday inoculated only 55,728 people, which includes 46,113 individuals who received their second shots. Less than 10,000 received their first jab that day. Though SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan initially dismissed concerns of a shortage, a special meeting of key federal government figures held later indicated otherwise. A press release issued after the meeting suggests measures are being taken to start the process of availing credit lines with the country’s development partners so that timely payments can be made to vendors for a smooth supply of vaccines. Importing the vaccine requires liquidity, a requirement Pakistan can only partially address through domestic financing. There have been significant challenges for the government in approaching creditors such as the World Bank and ADB. Foremost is the fact that neither lender would approve financing for vaccines that are not WHO-approved — a reality that up until a month ago complicated matters for vaccine supply in the country. Only recently has the WHO approved two vaccines from China, which is where Pakistan hopes to get the majority of its vaccine supply from. These lenders also have stringent procurement rules regarding transparency and tenders which the National Disaster Management Authority, which has been tasked with procurement, must fulfil.

As the government approaches creditors and suppliers, it must ensure transparency in vaccine delivery and timelines so that members of the public do not find themselves groping in the dark. The most vulnerable and elderly must be prioritised for first and second doses, and at the same time, through awareness-building measures, the public must be kept engaged to make sure that interest in getting vaccinated does not wane. The time between when creditors are approached and the final financing is disbursed can often be a period of months, so the government needs to factor these realities in when it utilises its resources to expand vaccine operations and distribution.

It is a pity that Pakistan has as yet managed to administer only 12.7m doses in total, with just over 3m people fully vaccinated. With a target vaccine population of 70m, the total doses required are 140m — a figure that means that the road ahead for Covid-19 inoculation will be a long one strewn with several challenges. Many developing countries were dealt a blow when Covax vaccine delivery grounded to a halt earlier in the year, and most are still struggling to secure supplies as manufacturers fulfil commitments to richer countries that were the first to place orders and pay for them. As the economically weaker countries struggle with vaccinating their large populations, richer nations should know that the failure to curb Covid-19 will result in economic damage for everyone.

  • Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2021*

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