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Pakistan Has Yet to Finalize Any COVID-19 Vaccine Procurement

by Newsweek Pakistan

Courtesy PID

Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health claims no ‘final order’ has yet been placed or accepted by any vaccine manufacturer

As the rest of the world commences vaccinations to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan has yet to finalize any orders despite claiming for weeks to have secured 1.1 million doses of a Chinese vaccine to inoculate frontline healthcare workers, according to a report published in daily The News.

Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan told the English-language daily that the government was still “striving” to secure the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for frontline workers. “[However] the final order has not yet been placed and accepted [by any vaccine manufacturer],” he said. Last month, both Sultan and the parliamentary secretary for health had repeatedly claimed that the government had not only secured 1.1 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine—covering less than 0.6 percent of the country’s population—it was also negotiating additional doses from alternate sources. They had repeatedly stressed that the initial doses were set for delivery around March, but were “hoping” they could be secured by the end of January or start of February.

During his interview with The News’ Waqar Bhatti, the de facto health minister claimed that no “exact date” could be given for any vaccine’s arrival to Pakistan, though authorities were “trying to get [it] as soon as possible.” He said health authorities and an expert committee were examining various options to acquire “safe and effective” vaccines.

According to Dr. Sultan, China’s Sinopharm has already submitted its data with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan. However, he added, no agreement has been finalized yet. “The second vaccine candidate is CanSino, whose trials are currently underway and they are a couple of weeks away from submitting their data to us,” he told the daily. “We are also interested in Russian vaccine Sputnik V, who have submitted some data but we have sought more data from them,” he added.

Referring to vaccines developed in Europe and the U.S., he said negotiations are underway for the AztraZeneca vaccine. “We are trying to get AstraZeneca vaccine both through the COVAX facility and through direct procurement,” he said. The World Health Organization’s COVAX measure aims to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines globally, and is set to deliver 2 billion doses to partner countries by the end of 2021. Subject to funding availability, COVAX will provide countries with enough doses to vaccinate up to 20 percent of their population. Without independent procurement, this leaves over 75 percent of Pakistan’s population without access to any vaccines.

Dr. Sultan’s claims come as several countries have already launched vaccination programs, focusing on frontline workers and the elderly. According to WHO, Israel is currently leading in terms of the population vaccinated, having already inoculated 22.3 percent of its citizens. The U.A.E. has also vaccinated 14 percent of its citizens already.

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