• Experts fear risks as study under way to find hazards, benefits
• 120 die, 4,191 new cases of Covid-19 emerge
• PMA urges Punjab not to silence protesting doctors
ISLAMABAD: Amid doctors’ concerns about the impact of mix-and-match vaccines on public health, the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has decided to facilitate foreign travel of those who have been administered Chinese vaccine by charging them for the booster shot.
The NHS ministry fixed charges of Rs1,270 per booster dose to make it available for the overseas Pakistanis who have been unable to travel abroad after receiving shots of Chinese vaccines, as a number of countries, including Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, made the administration of American or British vaccines mandatory for passengers.
Some health experts fear that the booster shots can be hazardous when there is no study to prove that mix and match of vaccines is safe for humans.
Just a couple of days ago, Saudi Arabia had added the Chinese vaccines — Sinopharm and Sinovac — to its list of approved vaccines. Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac have been approved so far. But it was made clear that those who had received shots of Chinese vaccines would have to get a booster shot of one of the other four approved vaccines, it declared.
According to a notification issued by NHS Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khuwaja and available with Dawn, additional vaccination to travellers will be conducted at selected public corona vaccination centres on payment. The fee of each booster dose of vaccine shall be Rs1,270.
“The payment of the vaccine can be deposited in all branches of National Bank of Pakistan in the Head of Accounts; C-Non-Tax Revenue, C02-Receipts from Civil Administration and other functionaries, C027-Community Services Receipts; and C02721-Sale proceeds of sera and vaccines,” the notification stated.
Earlier on Tuesday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) had announced that the facility of booster shots would be offered to people and students who intended to travel abroad but they would have to pay for it.
Moreover, the NCOC was considering to provide free booster shots to healthcare workers aged 50 years or more and those who are immunocompromised.
However, Dr Javed Akram, vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences (UHS), is not in favour of giving booster shots to health workers and immunocompromised people.
While talking to Dawn, he agreed that it was a requirement to give a booster shot to overseas Pakistanis but rejected the idea of providing booster shots to healthcare workers and immunocompromised people. “First of all, as there is extreme shortage of vaccine across the world, it is unfair to give a booster to anyone. We should try to achieve herd immunity at the earliest and then can think of the booster shots. The decision will put an impact on vaccine equity. Moreover, there is no evidence that the booster confers better protection,” he said.
Dr Akram said that his university had initiated a study regarding mix and match of the vaccine in which so far only 1,500 persons from different countries had registered themselves. “We have been asking questions from them to know if mix and match of the vaccine is beneficial or hazardous. However, at the moment, we cannot say anything about it. Therefore I would say that people should avoid mix and match,” he said.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus positivity rate remained 6.83 per cent across the country. The number of deaths in a single day also crossed the 100 mark for a second time this month. The NCOC, which had reported 141 deaths on August 24, recorded 120 deaths in the past one day.
As the official data showed 4,191 new cases of coronavirus in the past one day, Director General of Health Services, Islamabad, Dr Hassan Orooj, told Dawn that the number of daily cases had reduced a little. He said there had been a decrease in number of Covid-19 cases in recent days in Islamabad, which was considered a trendsetter. “It is time to tighten preventive efforts in houses, markets, mosques, offices and gatherings so that infection rate start decreasing in September,” he said.
The DG said focusing on both vaccination and prevention could improve the situation and cases could further drop if people strictly adhered to the standard operating procedures.
Police action against doctors condemned
While condemning police action against protesting doctors by police in Lahore, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) in a statement explained: “Doctors and medical students were peacefully protesting against National Licensing Exam (NLE), which is their basic democratic right. Nobody can deprive them of this right.
“Police viciously [used] baton-charge, teargas and water cannons, injuring dozens of doctors. Condition of some of these doctors is critical. Violence against doctors is not acceptable.
PMA Secretary General Dr Qaisar Sajjad said it was very painful that doctors were being victimised at a time when they were serving the nation as frontline soldiers in the fight against coronavirus. “People all over the world are paying tribute to their heroes but here the doctors are facing violence,” he remarked.
The PMA advised the Punjab government to refrain from using such violent tactics to make medical fraternity silent. “Doctors all over Pakistan are united and reserve the right to protest against this viciousness,” the secretary general said.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2021