As Pakistan is struggling to contain the second wave of Covid-19, there is speculation if the country will procure the vaccine from its all-weather friend China, or it will turn to “more effective” Russian, American or British vaccines.
The nations around the globe are rushing to get a certified vaccine as soon as possible. Pakistan is currently conducting the phase III trials of Ad5-nCoV, developed by the Chinese vaccine developer CanSino Biologics.
The government last week said it had begun the vaccine procurement process, but there was no confirmation on which vaccine candidate the government had decided to finalize. As of Friday, Pakistan’s Covid-19 tally stands at 432,000 with 8,653 deaths reported so far.
Although the authorities said the Coronavirus vaccine will be available in the country in the first quarter of next year, the decision on which country to choose will be based on the effectiveness of the vaccine, according to the Imran Khan government.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, the health advisor to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, told BBC, “It was a misconception that we were giving priority to one or the other vaccine, but that we would give priority to science and the best vaccine available to us. The one that will have scientific benefits will be used.”
“Pakistan is not giving priority to any vaccine. The most important decision that will be made for us, on the basis of which we have to give priority to any vaccine, is the effectiveness of the vaccine and its safety,” he said.
Upon being asked whether Pakistan was prioritizing the Russian and Chinese vaccines because they would be relatively cheap, Dr. Faisal Sultan said that Pakistan is a country of more than 200 million people, the country’s needs are humongous, and “we understand that we will need more than one source.”
PM Imran Khan had in November 2020 allocated over $150 million to secure vaccine doses from various developers, and China is on the top of the list.
Protect yourself, your loved ones and the people around you!
— WHO Pakistan (@WHOPakistan) December 11, 2020
The first vaccine is expected to be available in the country in the first quarter of 2021, which will, however, cannot be afforded for the entire population. But in the second quarter, there is a chance that the supply of vaccine to the general population will be made possible.
Then there are conspiracy concerns among the general population in Pakistan against the administration of vaccines. Gallup, a US analytics and advisory firm, conducted a poll in Pakistan last month, which showed that 37% of the citizens would not get a vaccine once one became available. Although anti-vax sentiment is a global problem, it is far more dangerous in Pakistan than almost anywhere else.
The extremists have attacked polio vaccination teams dozens of times in the country over the years, and such an environment of fear and mistrust has resulted in the disease still to be eradicated, with a similar fate in Afghanistan.
Compounding the fears was the recent Lancet report, which claimed that the use of an Ad5 vector for immunization against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) could increase the risk of HIV-1 acquisition among men who are injected with it. The Ad5-nCoV is currently undergoing trials in Pakistan, the UAE, China, and other countries.
China ‘Best Option’ For Pakistan?
German news agency DW quoted Mohammad Zaka-ur-Rehman, the former chairman of the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PPMA), as saying that the western vaccine makers are already committed to providing doses in the US and Europe.
“For Pakistan, China is the best option because Chinese companies have not been flooded with such orders,” Rehman told the agency, adding health authorities have already made arrangements for distributing and storing the vaccine.
Imran Khan is pinning hopes on the Chinese vaccine, although his government is in touch with other countries including Russia to procure additional samples. The country expects the Chinese vaccine to be available sooner, and obviously, it will come at a lower cost with the two countries being close allies.
And whether the Pakistan PM can follow through on his promise of providing free vaccines to all the country’s citizens is to be seen.
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