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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Looking for vaccines: what is Pakistan doing wrong?

Dr Zeeshan highlights problems facing Pakistan's vaccination drive. Even though the government has begun administering vaccines, the positivity rate continues to grow.

After the arrival of third wave of Coronavirus in Pakistan, things have worsened to a larger extent. Even though the vaccines for COVID-19 have started to be administered, the severity of the pandemic is not lowering and the bad impacts of the virus are rampantly multiplying. The positivity rate has become immense and even surpassed the percentage of 11 percent. The biggest problem is the non-availability of anti-corona vaccine.

Firstly, the vaccine bought by the state is just one million doses and initially, Pakistan was using only those vaccine doses which were provided as donations and were only 1.5 million in quantity.

Read more: Pakistan in talks with China, Russia to get vaccines

Moreover, there is no indigenously produced vaccine like Serum Institute of India(SII) and Pakistan, with more than 700 pharmaceutical companies, is still lagging in the race. The facilities are not there for the process of production of any type of vaccine at all.

The issue of capacity building is there but things have not been attended in this regard from the beginning. The process of vaccine preparation is very complex, requiring research worth millions of dollars.

Moreover, Health Budget of 2020-2021 is only Rs 25.50 billion which is actually nothing at all. However, education budget of 2020-2021 is Rs 83.36 billion and for research and other modern fields there is no extra money which has been allocated. So, how things can work in such conditions?

Read more: Pakistan’s health care system in a severe crisis

The tragedy of Pakistan’s health sector

When a glance is put on global statistics regarding vaccinating the people, the figures are totally opposite to Pakistan. America has vaccinated more than 15 percent of its total population and more than 30 percent of its population has received its first dose though it must be added that USA has the benefit of self-sufficiency.

Only six countries are producing anti-corona vaccines in the whole world. China is producing 17 types of vaccines, whereas India is producing 14 types of vaccines and is also exporting these vaccines.

Read more: India will supply Covid-19 vaccines globally: PM Modi

Pakistan had created National Institute of Health in 1965, even before India, for the research for different types of diseases and production of vaccines but till today, not a single vaccine has been produced by this institute. Even Polio vaccine is imported by Pakistan.

This is the tragedy which is not being addressed since the beginning. Additionally, a federal minister allegedly vaccinated his whole family while neglecting and violating the protocols and rules of vaccinations for age specific persons and such trends are common in financially strong stratas of the society.

Read more: Iffat Omar under fire for allegedly getting vaccinated against COVID-19

British mutant variant of corona virus entered in Pakistan a few months ago, which is the actual cause of third wave and is the most dangerous. It also showed its best tricks regarding the severity of the pandemic.

The positivity rate is also astonishing, yet, the efforts for getting vaccine for the whole population seems very low in context to Pakistan.

Only one agreement with China was made until now. The agreement will actually become more fruitful if there is an advent of one million vaccine doses other than donations. Even our neighbors have many agreements on Govt. level, especially in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Read more: India authorizes emergency use of two Covid-19 vaccines

DRAP’s inefficiency

A private firm in Pakistan bought Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 Vaccine but that is also stuck. Although the Sindh High Court had allowed its commercial sale, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) failed to maintain the price.

DRAP, which is one of the most inefficient and criminally negligent institution, did nothing to lower the price of the vaccine and then became silent on high priced commercial sale of the vaccine which is incidentally more than one hundred and sixty percent than the international price.

The international price is only ten dollars but the mentioned Russian vaccine is too expensive on the proposed rate for commercial sale in Pakistan.

Read more: Are Pakistan’s health systems prepared for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Additionally, DRAP tried to facilitate its sale but stopped as it feared backlash from NAB if NAB found out about the high price. Furthermore, Transparency International had also objected to the high price of vaccine in Pakistan and wrote a letter to Pakistan about the cause of this high price by linking it with massive corruption.

Even Sindh High Court was furious about the procrastination in releasing this consignment of vaccine doses. During all this mess, only the people of Pakistan continued to suffer severely from the pandemic.

According to the 2018 Pharma Law, which was passed during the era of former Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, any new medicine or vaccine that comes to Pakistan and which has no determined price, the importer can take 45 percent of landing price.

People are dying of the pandemic but release of vaccine doses is stuck despite Sindh High Court intervention. Moreover, DRAP cannot allow a medicine or vaccine to be sold on a high price of more than 30 percent as compared to neighboring countries of Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan to get half a million Covid-19 vaccine doses as a gift from China

The sad reality

Out of every thousand people, 60 in Nepal, 40 in Sri Lanka, 35 in India, 30 in Bangladesh and only 1 in Pakistan have been vaccinated. The total vaccinated people in Pakistan until now is not even one million whereas India has vaccinated 55 million Indians already.

Recently, Pakistan reported highest number of COVID-19 cases since June. According to NCOC document, people between 20 to 40 and 60 to 70 years of age are most vulnerable to the pandemic.

Read more: What is Pakistan’s COVID-19 positivity rate?

Unfortunately, people in Pakistan are still not paying heed to how dangerous the pandemic can be. People are unable to follow the SOPs and the elite sections of society are no different in this regard.

Coronavirus is spreading like a wildfire and the red line has also been crossed. The only good news is that Pakistan for the very first time participated in phase-3 clinical trials of a vaccine.

Mask is the real protector and all myths must be shattered now. Important thing is that vaccine does not produce its effects immediately but it takes time to be effective. At the end, the pandemic can be controlled only by opting the important precautionary measures until the vaccination.

Read more: Busting the Corona virus myths

The author is a serving doctor. He is also a content writer, freelance writer, social commentator, analyst and contributor to the Op-Ed pages of different newspapers. His Twitter handle is: @DrZeeshanKhanA1. He can also be reached at: dr.zeeshan.alias.ghazikhan@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.