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June 14, 2021

One has to be sensible about pandemic, says Dr Faisal

KARACHI: The Covid-19 had brought serious health and economic challenges for the past one and a half years but luckily those challenges were tackled by the world community with solid determination and viable strategies to prevent the pandemic through imposing national-based Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), it was stated at a webinar on “Covid-19 in 2021 & Beyond Digital Vaccine Passports in Times of Pandemic”, organised by Roche Diagnostics Pakistan, Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Memorial Society, and Jang Group of Newspapers.

The webinar was organised with an objective of bringing the stakeholders together to discuss how Pakistan has dealt with the virus and what else remained to be done effectively to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, to take measures to move forwards that would eventually support the reopening of the borders. The panelists of the webinar included Special Assistant to the PM on Health, Dr Faisal Sultan; Vice-Chancellor, University of Health Sciences, Dr Javed Akram; MD Roche Diagnostic Asia Pacific and Board Member of APACMed, Lance Little; and CEO, Indus Hospital, Dr Abdul Bari, while the webinar was moderated by Dean IPH Dr Zarfishan Tahir and hosted by Senior Editor and Chairman MKRMS Wasif Nagi.

While addressing the webinar, Dr Faisal Sultan stressed that the pandemic is not over yet and we need to be sensible instead of getting comfortable to ensure that we can contain the spread of the virus, saying precautionary measures must be continued, which included the use of masks. In response to a question regarding the ease of restrictions after a decline in cases, the PM’s Assistant said getting vaccinated is of utmost importance because of the prevailing situation. Restrictions have a shelf life, one could not continue doing what we have been doing so far, but if it went on with necessary precautions, we could fight this off together. “I would also like to add that a data driven approach is needed to mitigate the risks and continue with our life.”

The PM’s health assistant further said right from the beginning of the pandemic, we had started making a timely required data management mechanism to get the data through digital information and it became the primary source to ensure complete information of all the citizens being tested. Dr Faisal Sultan stated that dashboard was being maintained by the digitally fetched data from the primary testing centres through the citizens’ CNIC numbers. He said Pakistan had built National Immunization Management System, directly linked with the NADRA’s data mechanism. He said we could also add further columns for health-related information and other data, saying the data is available and verifiable, adding that building digital passports would be a solution to allow the societies to start interacting again.

Meanwhile, Lance Little said, “During this period, we are trying to understand how can we survive. We need accurate reliable information because now we are living in a world, where it is difficult to come together in countries, at various events and gatherings. The digital passport could have information about PCR, antigen, antibody and vaccine status. The important part is trust and these passports can provide the mechanism for countries to trust individuals, travelling from other countries.” Prof Dr Javed Akram said, “Since we have been doing trials of about five different vaccines and realising that the available vaccines can cover most of the strains. We just released the data and it is under publication that in Lahore and even in Punjab, the number of pre-dominant variant is still 117, which means 17 variations in RNA.”

Dr Akram said, “It’s a large size RNA virus rapidly multiplying inside the body and it can also mutate thirty nine thousand times. Fortunately the mutations registered in world are less than 129 and the variations in RNA are more common but unfortunately all the variations that we are facing in RNA are spike with proteins. Pakistan is a huge country and we have to understand the limitations and Pakistan is among those that are participating in large trials. The vaccines are safe and effective to some extent but we have to continue to develop new vaccines.” Dr Abdul Bari commended the efforts of the NCOC and the public-private sector partnership for containing the spread of the virus. He also acknowledged Roche Diagnostics for coming up with its fully automated PCR tests that enabled 1,500 tests to be conducted in a day, thereby helping significantly to increase the testing capacity of the country.

Speaking about the CNIC issue, Dr Abdul Bari said because of the citizens who did not have the CINC, a huge part of the population was unvaccinated. So right now, our fight against the pandemic is jeopardised by anyone, who is eligible but is still not getting vaccinated due to unavailability of the CNIC. He stressed that Pakistan has opened up vaccination for nearly all ages, it is important to have some alternative for people without having national IDs to get vaccinated, saying it may be something as simple as verification by an employer or local mosque. If there is a fear of poor follow-up, Dr Bari recommended that it would be better to give single dose vaccine to the immigrants and those living without CNICs.