Planning minister says federal government does not have any desire to maintain monopoly on securing vaccines that have been approved by DRAP
Planning Minister Asad Umar over the weekend clarified that provincial governments and the private sector were free to independently import COVID-19 vaccines, as requested by the Sindh health minister.
Addressing media on Saturday afternoon, Sindh Health Minister Dr. Azra Pechuho had urged the federal government to allow provinces to independently procure coronavirus vaccines for speedy distribution among frontline workers and the elderly. “If we continue to sit back, our people will get sick and die,” she warned, adding that a major concern with waiting to procure vaccines was that the virus was mutating rapidly, and there was a significant concern that future mutations could reduce the efficacy of currently available vaccines.
It is very important to get people vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent serious health problems from occurring, and to ensure Pakistan’s health infrastructure does not get overwhelmed, she added.
In an interview with Geo News, minister Umar—who also heads the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) overseeing the national COVID-19 response—stressed that the federal government had no issues with provincial governments securing their own supply of vaccines, provided they had been approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).
“Provinces and private entities, including hospitals, have been allowed to import the vaccines that are approved by DRAP,” he said, adding that the government expected the first doses of the vaccine to be available for Pakistanis by March. The federal minister emphasized that the center had, from day one, decided it would not maintain any monopoly for the import of coronavirus vaccines.
Approvals and imports
Umar told Geo News that DRAP had already approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding that the Sindh government was free to import it, provided it could procure necessary supplies from abroad. He also said that China’s Sinopharm vaccine—touted as the center’s top choice by Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry—had been approved by a technical committee. However, he added, a mechanism on how to distribute it locally was still pending, and would be decided by Tuesday.
The federal minister also said that the clinical trial results of China’s CanSino vaccine would be available by mid-February, and if approved, the vaccine would be available in March. He also came out strongly in favor of the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, which is set to provide vaccines covering 20 percent of the country’s population by the end of the year.
Despite claims of successfully combating the ongoing second wave of the novel coronavirus, Pakistan continues to report over 40 daily deaths linked to the pandemic. According to the NCOC, nearly 50 percent of ventilators are occupied by patients in major urban centers. Authorities continue to stress the adoption of precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus, including by wearing face masks and avoiding large public gatherings.