Monday September 20, 2021

Top-up with Western vaccines for travel purposes not a priority: Dr Faisal

KARACHI: Allowing Pakistani citizens, already vaccinated with Chinese or Russian Covid-19 vaccines, to get ‘top up’ jabs of American or European vaccines including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca for travel purposes is ‘not a first priority’ at the moment but a solution to this issue would be found soon, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr. Faisal Sultan said on Saturday.

“Pakistani citizens already vaccinated are ‘not yet’ allowed to get a travel top up (with any American or European vaccine). This travel top up may come but (we will) have to look into many aspects,” SAPM Dr. Faisal Sultan told The News in response to queries if people would be allowed to have additional jabs of vaccines acceptable to some European, Middle Eastern countries and the United States. At this point in time, Pakistan's National Immunization Management System (NIMS) linked with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) does not allow a person to get vaccinated with multiple vaccines.

According to National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) data, around 25 million doses have so far been administered in Pakistan with seven million people fully vaccinated while 20 million have received the first jab only. The vaccines being used are Chinese Sinopharm, Sinovac and single-dose Cansino vaccines, Russian Sputnik V, European AstraZeneca and American Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, thousands of Pakistani nationals intending to travel abroad want to be vaccinated with European Covishield (AstraZeneca), America’s Pfizer or Moderna vaccines which are globally accepted but cannot have them due to NIMS restrictions. While the health authorities have allowed only the students studying abroad or Iqama-holders to get vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine, there are thousands others who have been vaccinated with Chinese or Russian vaccines but also want to be vaccinated with European and American vaccines.

Dr. Faisal Sultan maintained that in the current phase, they were trying to maximize vaccination to overcome the epidemic. “But the usage of it (vaccine) to enable travel (non iqama, non student) is not the first priority. Nevertheless, we will try to find a solution soon”, he added. “We are trying to find a solution to the problem,” the SAPM added.

When asked if the private sector would be allowed to import the American and European vaccines to help those requiring top up vaccines, he observed that the private sector was unable to acquire any of the Western vaccines in Pakistan. But another official at the NCOC who requested not to be named, said the issue has been discussed at length and added that eventually the private sector could be allowed to import Western vaccines and inoculate those who require jabs of the Western vaccine for travel purposes. The official, however, maintained that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) doesn't recommend mix and match of vaccines yet. “Moreover Sinopharm and SinoVac vaccines have acquired WHO’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) as well and it is hoped that people inoculated with these vaccines would not ask for additional vaccines”, he added.