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Deals struck for over 30m vaccine doses: Dr Faisal

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May 4, 2021

ISLAMABAD: For the first half of the year i.e., from January to June 2021, Pakistan has and expects to receive 19.82 million doses of vaccines offering protection against COVID-19. The fact that 91 percent of these doses are purchased clearly indicates that the country is not dependent on donations. In totality, deals have already been signed for the procurement of over 30 million doses.

The PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Faisal Sultan shared these data Monday in a televised briefing arranged to highlight the current status of vaccine procurement and roll-out in Pakistan, as well as to share global supply issues and matters related to local vaccine production. Dr. Faisal said, the government initiated conversation with vaccine manufacturers and GAVI in July 2020—well before any vaccine had been fully developed and approved. The Economic Coordination Committee approved $150 million dollars for vaccine procurement on November 20, 2020, with the Cabinet confirming this December 1, 2020.

“It is important to remember that vaccines did not get approved for use until mid or late December. For example, Pfizer was approved on December 11, 2020, AstraZeneca on December 30, 2020, and Sinopharm was also in late stage Phase III trials in December 2020,” Dr Faisal recalled. The SAPM said, Pakistan is currently vaccinating 150,000 people daily as against a target of 300,000 vaccinations per day. Vaccination for the 40+ age group, for which registration was opened last week, also teed off on Monday. “We are proud of these accomplishments, especially considering the serious global supply issues,” he stated adding, manufacturers like Astra Zeneca and Moderna have been unable to meet demand. Hence, even some of the richest countries like Australia and Canada had to slow down or halt their vaccine roll-out. Some of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing countries have imposed embargos on exporting vaccines until their local demand is met. “No matter how much money you are willing to spend, you can’t buy more than what’s available,” Dr. Faisal stated.

With reference to local production of COVID vaccine, Dr. Faisal said, Pakistan will be able to produce 3 million doses per month of the single-dose CanSino Bio vaccine locally, thereby significantly reducing dependence on other countries and becoming largely self-sufficient to meet its vaccine needs. “China is a strong partner and has gone out of its way in keeping up a supply chain and transferring technology to Pakistan,” he acknowledged.

Dr. Faisal said, it is erroneous to compare Pakistan with countries like the US and India, who are self-sufficient in vaccine production already. “While we are moving in that direction, Pakistan did not have the capacity for vaccine production. Even so, our vaccine roll-out began soon after India’s. The first vaccine dose was administered in India on January16 as against February 2 in Pakistan,” he shared.

Referring to reports drawing comparisons regional countries in the region with smaller economies e.g., Bhutan which has vaccinated over 60% of its population, Dr. Faisal highlighted the significance of context. “Bhutan has a population of almost 750,000, which means they have vaccinated around 500,000 people. Pakistan, on the other hand, has a population of 220 million and has vaccinated over 2.5 million people, meaning fives times as many people as Bhutan and, in fact, thrice the whole population of Bhutan. “Therefore, please be careful when you come across such comparisons,” he urged.

Looking ahead, Dr Faisal, said, “We are continuing to procure vaccines and are keeping our options open. We shall continue to take additional precautions of limiting public space and enforcing SOPs to slow down the spread of disease.” He concluded, hoping that the media will support the government in its fight against COVID.