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Pakistan facing vaccine shortage

 A female being injected COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through vaccination center setup at the Gaddafi Stadium. -APP

KARACHI/LAHORE: Pakistan faced a COVID-19 vaccine crisis on Tuesday due to exhaustion of its Chinese and European vaccine stocks, compelling federal authorities to dispatch around 150,000 reserved doses in emergency to Sindh and Punjab to meet their daily requirements while SOS signals were sent to Beijing and COVAX for the provision of vaccine shipments.

“At the moment, we are facing a shortage of different Chinese and European vaccines that are being used to inoculate our population. Sinopharm and SinoVac vaccines are only being administered to those requiring the second dose while AstraZeneca’s stocks are also near exhaustion”, an official of the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS,R&C) told The News on Tuesday.

Vaccination process at the Expo Centre Lahore was halted completely on Tuesday due suspension of vaccine supply from Centre while many youngsters were refused vaccination at Expo Centre Karachi and some other vaccination centers due to shortage of Sinopharm, Sinovac and Cansino vaccines while AstraZeneca was only being offered to people of 40 years of age and above in Karachi.

The NHS official said they have dispatched 100,000 doses of different vaccines to Sindh including 50,000 doses of Sinopharm, 40,000 doses of Sinovac and 10,000 doses of AstraZeneca after the shortage of vaccines and asked the provincial authorities to divert the vaccines from under-utilized COVID-19 vaccination centers to mega centers to facilitate the people.

Similarly, the official said, they have dispatched 50,000 doses of various vaccines including 30,000 doses of Sinopharm, and 10,000 doses each of Cansino and AstraZeneca to Punjab to continue the vaccination process at its mega vaccination center and also advised the provincial authorities to divert the unutilised vaccine stocks to its mega center in Lahore.

“We are expecting one million doses of Cansino vaccine by the end of this week from China while are expecting around 12.5 million doses of AstraZeneca through COVAX by the end of this month but there is no confirmation in this regard”, the official said, adding that institutions involved in procurement had been asked to beef up the process to meet the country’s vaccine requirement.

What caused vaccine shortage? 

Officials in the federal government said as the task of procuring the vaccines had been assigned to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) by relieving the National Health Ministry of this job, a lack of coordination and disruption in vaccine supplies from China occurred.

They said NDMA was not only dealing with Chinese vaccine manufacturers including Sinopharm, Sinovac and CansinoBIO but it was also negotiating with Pfizer for the procurement of its mRNA vaccine for the country but added that so far, it had not managed to strike a deal with them.

Similarly, they said, Pakistan was relying heavily on National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad for preparation and filing of single-dose Chinese vaccine Cansino from the bulk concentrate from China, which is being given the name of PakVac but NIH also failed to fulfill its commitment of sustained supply of the single-dose vaccine.

“NIH Islamabad authorities had assured that they would be providing 3 million doses of PakVac (Cansino) vaccine per month but it failed to meet its commitment”, one of the officials said.

Following shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in Sindh, an acute shortage of vaccines has hit many Coronavirus Vaccination Centres (CVCs) in Punjab, which slowed down inoculation drive against COVID-19 in the provincial capital.

Punjab government has been unable to cope with the extraordinary situation as scenes of mayhem have been witnessed at major CVCs set up at Expo Centre, Walton, Minar-e-Pakistan and various other vaccination centres in capital city of the province. “I was scheduled for my second dose of vaccine but vaccine stocks seem to have vanished,” says Sohail here at Expo Centre Lahore, while expressing grave concern over lack of second dose on fixed date may affect building of immunity against coronavirus.

“Punjab government also stopped supply of vaccines at Lahore Press Club citing reason of shortage in supply of vaccines,” says Salman Ahmad, Manager of Lahore Press Club.

The shortage of vaccine has also affected the Drive-Through Vaccine Facility at Gaddafi Stadium and mobile vaccination units in various parts of the city. However, an official of Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department (P&SHD) admitted that there was shortage of vaccine at certain CVCs in Lahore, saying that the shortage was caused by arrival of more people than the availability of vaccine at a given time. “The government supplies around 30,000 to 35,000 vaccine doses from central EPI Centre at Manga Mandi to CVC Expo Centre daily to cater to the people volunteering for vaccination in the next 24 hours,” he said, adding that the arrival of people exceeded the number of vaccine doses on Tuesday, which caused the paucity of vaccines and confusion among the people.

“As the priority is given to the people requiring second dose, the non-availability of vaccine caused a panic among people arriving for their first dose,” he said, adding that the government had made the alternate arrangement of shifting vaccines from CVCs having slow pace of immunisation in various districts to the mega CVCs in the provincial metropolis.

“The government intends to replace Chinese vaccines with indigenously development vaccine namely PakVac, which caused an artificial shortage of vaccine at CVCs,” says a vaccinator at CVC at Minar-e-Pakistan.

At the beginning, Pakistan government inoculated with double-dose vaccines Sinopharm from China, followed by AstraZeneca by Oxford UK, to currently available SinoVac and single-shot Cansino from China.

The National Coordination and Operation Centre (NCOC), which had received 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine, has supplied 26,000 doses to Punjab, which will be administered to immunocompromised people such as patients of organ transplant, cancer and AIDS on priority basis.

When contacted, a spokesman of Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination informed that the shortage of vaccine has spread thinly across the country. Therefore, he suggested that the relocation of vaccines from limited use CVCs was required. He further informed that only limited quantities of vaccines were reserved centrally. “The next consignments of vaccines are expected towards end of current week,” he told The News.

Meanwhile, Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid, in a statement issued on Tuesday, claimed that Punjab has adequate vaccine stock available for the next three days and the news of shortage are baseless. “All districts have enough stock available, while Deputy Commissioner Lahore has a stock of 25,000 doses available at his disposal,” she said, adding that the vaccine was being administered to people at their doorsteps through 57 Mobile Unit Camps in Lahore.

“I am personally monitoring the vaccination process in Punjab,” she said, adding that about 1.6 million shots were recently supplied across the province, which were being administered 24/7 through 677 CVCs including THQ hospitals in all districts of the province. “We are inoculating over 240,000 people across the province on a daily basis,” she said, adding that the momentum of the immunization campaign would be further increased to achieve the prescribed targets.

The minister further informed that the provincial administration was in possession of 13,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine, which would be administered to people suffering from serious ailments on a priority basis.