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January 23, 2021

Procuring vaccines

Editorial

 
January 23, 2021

While countries in the neighbourhood, including India with its massive population, have begun dishing out the Covid-19 vaccine to millions of people, with India setting particularly ambitious targets for itself and also providing vaccine to neighbouring countries including Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Seychelles, we get no images from Pakistan of people rolling up their sleeves to receive the vaccine. In the current state of the pandemic, as experts from around the world have said, a vaccine may be the only way to stay safe and halt the pandemic in its stride. Already Covid-19 has created havoc around the world, in terms of travel, in terms of economies, in terms of business, and in terms of routine life. For all these reasons, while Pakistan has not been as badly hit as many other countries, it is still vital that the vaccine be obtained and steps begun to deliver it to people who wish to receive the vaccine and keep themselves safe. It is especially important that the elderly and frontline health workers who stand most at risk from Covid-19 are given the vaccine so that further deaths in that age group and among doctors, nurses and paramedics can be avoided.

However, Pakistan is continuing to struggle to obtain the vaccine from any source. While we are told a deal has been struck with Sinopharm from China, there are questions over when the vaccine consignment can be delivered and when the actual rollout will start. Sindh Medical, once the largest medical retail businesses in the country, has also struck a deal to obtain the vaccine manufactured by Oxford University with assistance from a European partner AstraZeneca.

The question also will be to persuade Pakistanis that the vaccines are safe and can be taken without any side effects. This means training staff in delivering them and setting up the right protocols. All this will take time, especially in a country which has been hesitant about vaccine use. Centres where vaccines are to be given must be knowledgeable about possible allergic reactions and minor side effects. Sindh Medical has said it will be delivering the vaccine when and if it receives enough doses, only to high quality medical centres such as Aga Khan University Hospital and Shaukat Khanum Trust Hospital. But it is unfortunate that Pakistan has still to receive any vaccine at all. Given that we had known for months that a vaccine would eventually be necessary, this again seems to be an issue of mismanagement and bad planning. Pakistan needs the vaccine now, so that life becomes normal for all its people, and the economy is put back on track before there is a further loss of jobs and livelihood for people.