Planning minister urges citizens to register for vaccinations, stressing that high-risk groups need to be prioritized
Dispelling reports that Pakistan has no intention to purchase coronavirus vaccines, Planning Minister Asad Umar on Sunday noted that in actuality the government could increase the existing allocation of $150 million to procure immunizations.
In an interview with Geo News, the minister—who also heads the National Command and Operation Center—said that the country had around 110 million people who were eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. He said the government planned to ensure at least 60-70 percent of this number were vaccinated this year. Of the eligible population, he said, the GAVI regime would provide sufficient doses for around 45 million people. “For the remaining 30 million, the government will purchase vaccines,” he added.
“Purchase deals are being made with two companies. We have closed one deal and hope to finalize the other within two to three days,” he said, adding that the government hoped to secure several hundred thousand doses of the purchased vaccines between the end of March and the end of April.
“Procurement of vaccines will not be stopped due to monetary considerations,” Umar added, in reference to the National Health Services secretary telling the Public Accounts Committee that the government would opt for free or donate vaccines over purchased ones.
Addressing the slow pace of vaccination in Pakistan, the minister lamented that people were not registering at the pace required. He claimed less than 10 percent of the eligible population of people over 60 had registered thus far and urged the public to not wait. “I appeal to people—at least those over 60—to immediately get registered so we can vaccinate the high-risk group,” he said, adding that thus far Pakistan had utilized around 350,000 doses during inoculations of frontline healthcare workers and the elderly.
Umar also appeared to blame the Pakistani public’s ambivalence about the coronavirus for the slow pace of vaccination. “When there is no fear of the virus, why will anyone bother?” he said, though would not clarify why the public did not consider the virus a major threat.
He said that the government would wait another week or so before providing vaccinations for people under 60. “If we see people [of relevant ages] are not coming in, we will move to the 50 and above age group,” he said.
Plea to opposition
To a question on the opposition’s proposed long march on the federal capital, set to commence on March 26, Umar claimed they were more worried about politics than public health. Referring to the opposition’s demands to retain lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic, he said those views did not match their desire to gather large numbers of people in a single location.
Noting that the prime minister had already clarified that the opposition was free to exercise its constitutional right to a peaceful march, he urged them to find alternate means to voice their issues with the incumbent government. “Instead of taking to the streets and endangering people’s lives, find some other political way. You can criticize PTI to your heart’s content,” he said.