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January 16, 2021

Waiting for a vaccine

Editorial

 
January 16, 2021

‘The Covid-19 pandemic led to a race for a vaccine, the kind we haven't seen before – resulting in an unprecedented quick creation and trial of vaccines for the coronavirus. Once the clocks said goodbye to 2020, the world looked to their governments and to global health companies and think tanks for news about how soon humanity would receive some level of immunity from the disease. Some countries have of course fared better as far as vaccine procurement is concerned. Those countries are unsurprisingly in the West, which is said to have procured most of the West-created vaccination doses. This situation gives us a picture of the discrepancy between the developed and less developed world in the ability to purchase and obtain vaccines, and has led to a healthy debate for a people's vaccine – one that serves to protect all people and not just those that can pay for this protection.

While images appear on television screens of some people in the developed countries starting to receive doses of the vaccine, we in Pakistan are still unclear not just on when individual people will get vaccinated but on when the country will even place an order for the vaccine. According to SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan, as of right now, the country has not ordered vaccine doses or made arrangements with any manufacturer regarding procurement. While there is justified outrage over what seems to be an inordinately long-drawn process of procurement by Pakistan's health authorities, there has been some explanation given for the delay in reaching an agreement on the Sinopharm vaccine by China, which last year in December, Science Minister Fawad Chaudhary had said the government may be acquiring. It turns out that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan is currently studying the Sinopharm vaccine, given questions over the drug's efficacy. Pakistan is also in talks with other countries to acquire other potential vaccines, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is among the cheapest of the Western vaccines.

Meanwhile, India, one of the largest manufacturers in the world of vaccines, has begun rolling out its own vaccine, which is based around the technology used for the AstraZeneca vaccine and has been finalised in cooperation with that company. India plans to begin supplying 20 million doses of the vaccine to most of its neighbouring countries, except Pakistan, over the next few weeks. After this it plans to supply the vaccine to Latin American and African countries. For Pakistan, the main focus for now must be to acquire a vaccine for its people. This is not a question that can be dismissed as fear-mongering. People are worried, and rumours and half-baked promises will help no one. Perhaps, the best way to make the people of the country understand what the government is doing in this regard is for the country's Covid managers to give a realistic timeline of when to expect a roll-out of a vaccine. That would help both the government and the people. Pakistan may not have suffered the volume of deaths that were seen in some other countries, but for individual families even one death in their home is one too many.