Pakistani doctor urges people to volunteer for COVID-19 vaccine trial

Ejaz A. Khan, Chief of Pediatrics and clinical in charge of Ad5-nCoV Phase III trial, gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Shifa International Hospital, in Islamabad on Sept. 29, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 30 September 2020

Pakistani doctor urges people to volunteer for COVID-19 vaccine trial

  • Volunteers must be over 18, not have tested positive for COVID-19
  • The trial's end point, is flexible, but one goal is to show the vaccine is 50% more effective than a placebo, says doctor Ejaz Khan

ISLAMABAD: The physician heading a Phase III clinical trial in Pakistan for a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine candidate has urged people to volunteer for the trial, overcoming the resistance in the country to immunisation programmes.
Pakistan launched the trial last week for Ad5-nCoV, a vaccine candidate co-developed by CanSino Biologics and a Chinese military-backed research unit.
It is the first-ever large scale trial in Pakistan, which has grappled with disinformation around other long-established vaccines, and attacks on health workers administering them.
Efforts to eradicate polio, for instance, have for years been undermined by opposition from some Islamists, who say immunisation is a foreign ploy to sterilize Muslim children or a cover for Western spies.
“There are lots of challenges whenever you introduce something new and a vaccine is part of it. Vaccine hesitancy, unfortunately, with a country like Pakistan is also pretty much high,” Ejaz A. Khan, who is heading the trial at Islamabad's Shifa International Hospital, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"People should come and volunteer, people should not be hesitant. They can take part and become part of the team which is fighting COVID-19."
Khan, who has taken part in immunisation drives for three decades in Pakistan, said even existing vaccines had side effects, and hoped Ad5-nCoV would not fall prey to this discussion.
Shifa International, the first of five trial sites in Pakistan, has repurposed a building previously used for COVID-19 testing for the trial, which it hopes will have 2,000 participants.
Volunteers arrive by appointment, and are recruited through NGOs, hospitals, and corporations.
Volunteers must be over 18, not have tested positive for COVID-19, not have immune deficiencies, and not be pregnant for the duration of the trial. A one-time 2,000 Pakistani rupees ($12) compensation for travel and food expenses is provided, Khan said.
The trial's end point, Khan said, is flexible, but one goal is to show the vaccine is 50% more effective than a placebo.
Once proven, Khan said it was expected Pakistan would be provided with several million doses on a priority basis by CanSinoBio.
Pakistan’s National Institute of Health, which is overseeing the trial, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Pakistan reported 541 new cases on Tuesday - taking the total to 312,263 with 6,479 deaths.


Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 18 min 18 sec ago

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.