Govt has no plan to buy vaccines anytime soon, PAC told

ISLAMABAD: The government aims to tackle the Covid-19 health challenge through herd immunity and donated vaccines as it has no plan to buy vaccines at least during the current year.

This was stated by National Health Service (NHS) Secretary Amir Ashraf Khawaja while briefing the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday.

According to National Institute of Health Executive Director Maj Gen Aamir Aamer Ikram, the cost of a single dose of Chinese vaccine CanSino is $13. He said Pakistan was relying on international donors and friendly countries, like China.

The NHS secretary informed the PAC that Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm had committed to providing one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, saying that 0.5m doses had been handed over to Pakistan, out of which around 275,000 doses had been administered to health professionals dealing with Covid-19 patients.

He said the second phase would cover the health officials working in other hospitals and health facilities, adding that the people aged 65 years and above could also register themselves for vaccination by sending a text message to 1166.

He said Pakistan had planned to vaccinate 70 million people this year.

According to the NHS secretary, Pakistan will also get 16m free doses of Indian-made Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine through Gavi that would give cover to 20 per cent of the population of Pakistan.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) is a public-private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

PAC Chairman Rana Tanveer Hussain asked the NHS secretary if they were waiting to get free vaccine.

Mr Khawaja replied: “We wouldn’t need to purchase much.”

In response to a question by the PAC chairman, the secretary said Pakistan would get the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine made by Serum Institute of India by the middle of March and the rest was expected to arrive in the country by June.

According to him, vaccination to aged people was due to start by March 5; however, the consignment was delayed.

He said that another Chinese company had conducted the phase-three trial of CanSino vaccine in Pakistan, adding that total 18,000 people were inoculated and the vaccine’s efficacy stood at 85pc.

According to the NHS secretary, the ministry had conducted a survey in June 2020 to ascertain the figures of those who have developed anti-bodies against coronavirus. He said the survey disclosed that around 15pc of the population has developed anti-bodies and that they did not need to be immunised.

The PAC chairman pointed out that some people had some reservations over side effects of the vaccine and suggested that the top leadership of the country should get inoculated first to remove doubts in the general public’s mind.

In response to a question by Hina Rabbani Khar, the NHS secretary said that despite the government’s offer to the private sector to buy the vaccine, no serious buyers had so far come forward.

The private sector has also been given permission by the government to cater to the needs of those people who could afford the price of the vaccine.

According to him, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has so far received applications only from three companies for the import of vaccines, but their applications have been rejected because they did not give any detail and specification of the vaccines they intended to import.