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May 19, 2021

Vaccination no hurdle for prospective Pakistani Hajis

KARACHI: The Covid-19 vaccination would not prevent any Pakistani pilgrim from performing Haj this year provided they are allowed to reach the holy cities, as Pakistan has plenty of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine at hand.

Also its hundreds of thousands of more doses, besides those of the Pfizer vaccine, would be made available by the next month, top officials confirmed on Tuesday. “The Saudi government has not yet announced its Haj policy which is expected by 15th Shawal (May 27, 2021). We don’t know yet whether they would allow pilgrims from outside the KSA and if allowed, how many outsiders could perform the pilgrimage. So at the moment, we are awaiting the announcement of the KSA Haj Policy,” an official of Government of Pakistan based in Riyadh told The News.

The Government of Pakistan official, who requested anonymity, said so far the Saudi authorities had only announced its travel policy and according to that, they were only allowing people vaccinated with three American and one European vaccines i.e Pfizer, Moderna, Jhonson and Jhonson and AstraZeneca to travel to Saudi Arabia.

He again clarified that no Haj-related restrictions have so far been announced. “If they maintain the travel-related restrictions for Hajis too, it would not be a matter of concern for Pakistanis as we are already vaccinating them with AstraZeneca and we have sufficient stocks available. We are also going to get hundreds of thousands more AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX next month,” the official added.

Similarly, the official said, Pakistan is also likely to get over a hundred thousand doses of Pfizer vaccine through COVAX by the end of June and added if required, Pakistani pilgrims would be vaccinated with these two KSA-approved vaccines, the official said. He said during Ramazan, the Saudi health authorities allowed three types of people into the holy cities including those who had both the doses of the KSA-approved vaccines, or those who had single dose of any one of those vaccines 14 days earlier or those who had recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months. “We are hopeful that vaccination related issues would not emerge if people from Pakistan are allowed to perform Haj this year,” the official added.

Clarifying the issue further, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr. Faisal Sultan said the Pakistani Hajis are likely to be inoculated by AstraZeneca vaccine if allowed to proceed for Haj. There were also reports that the KSA had also allowed entry to those vaccinated with Sinopharm vaccine after its approval by the World Health Organization (WHO) for COVAX initiative, but added that they were trying to get confirmation in this regard.

To another query, the SAPM said so far around 536,000 people had received the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine and no adverse affects were reported from anywhere in the country. “Out of over 3.8 million doses, 4,329 reported mild side effects like pain at the site of the jab or fever,” he said. However, only six serious side effects were reported, each investigated thoroughly and found to be coincidental and were not attributable to vaccine, Dr Sultan added.