PAKISTAN has one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world — a situation which, if not improved, can lead to multiple challenges. Thus far, only 5pc of our entire population has been vaccinated. Even if one were to look at the percentage of vaccinated people in the eligible group, the figure is a sorry 10pc. Though the data shows vaccine coverage in Islamabad is promising at 35pc, inoculation of eligible members of the population in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab is 10pc or lower.
Experts have said that vaccine hesitancy, conspiracy theories and low awareness are major factors behind the slow vaccination rate. But the Ministry of National Health Services claims otherwise, saying that the rates are low as most people want to get vaccinated near their place of residence and are deterred by long wait times. While this may be a minor factor behind the slow pace, the issue of vaccine hesitancy is a real and dangerous one. One survey cited by doctors has revealed that there are fears about getting sick from the jab and concerns that it will alter one’s DNA. The government must acknowledge how real and widespread the issue of vaccine scepticism is, and then address it with a systematic and effective awareness campaign. Failure to do so will end in a Covid-19 disaster for Pakistan — something we have fortunately avoided thus far. Experts have described a situation in which the “world is sitting on a time bomb” as the Delta variant is spreading and has mutated into the Delta Plus. There are fears of the next mutation becoming an ‘immune escape virus’, which the human body will no longer be able to recognise and eliminate. Areas with low vaccination rates could likely be the birthplace of the next variant, as the virus will thrive among swathes of unvaccinated people. The government must address this hesitancy and ramp up efforts to persuade people to get vaccinated, or risk a healthcare crisis and a population cut off from the world due to curbs on travel.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2021