KARACHI: The health minister of Sindh said on Monday the provincial coronavirus vaccination campaign was suffering because the central government had provided only “limited doses” to the southern province, which has a population of nearly 50 million people but had received less than 340,000 doses from Islamabad so far.
Pakistan, a country of over 220 million people in the midst of a third wave of the coronavirus, is in the process of vaccinating frontline healthcare workers and citizens over the age of 60 free of charge using a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China - the only jabs it has in stock so far.
On Monday, the government said a private company in Pakistan would begin receiving shipments of China’s CanSino Biologics COVID-19 vaccine this week for commercial sale. Last week, a private pharmaceutical company, AGP Limited, imported the first shipment of 50,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to Karachi, the capital of Sindh. The Russian vaccine jabs are in cold storage until the government sets a price cap for privately imported vaccines.
So far, the national vaccine procurement strategy has been that the central government receives the vaccines and then allocates them to the provinces.
“There is no difficulty with regard to the vaccination drive; however, due to limited doses, the Sindh health department cannot expand on the drive as much as we would like,” Sindh health minister Azra Fazal Pechuho told Arab News, explaining that vaccine procurement and distribution was being done at the federal level.
Arab News reached out to the federal health ministry for comment on Pechuho’s statement. Sajid Shah, a spokesperson for the ministry, replied:
“According to a plan, the government is providing vaccines to all frontline health workers across the country. People 60 years of age and above are being registered and vaccinated nationwide … The government is, in a phased manner, implementing its plan to protect the public from the virus.”
Sindh has 131 vaccine centers across the province and so far received 337,000 doses from Islamabad in three installments since March 2, to be administered to a total of 168,500 people, a spokesperson for the Sindh health department said. By Monday, 175,266 doses had been used, of which 130,759 were first doses. Over 22,500 senior citizens have been inoculated so far, 19,883 of them in Karachi.
At the Khaliqdina Hall vaccination center in Karachi, several elders interviewed by Arab News said they were satisfied with the vaccination process.
“The arrangements are good, and the process is smooth,” businessman Muhammad Junaid said, adding that he had protected himself from the virus by following health guidelines in the last year and considered getting vaccinated essential.
“I’m satisfied with the process,” another elder Surya Ahmed said, “and urge all elders to register themselves.”
Pakistan’s COVID-19 positivity rate on Monday was 8.43 percent, with 3,669 new infections and 20 deaths in the last 24 hours. In Sindh, the positivity rate remained at a low 2.62 percent, with 174 people testing positive from 6622 tests.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) on Monday urged the government to expedite the COVID-19 vaccination drive and strictly implement health guidelines to limit the spread of the disease.
“Vaccination process should be very fast; at least 70 percent of [the adult] population of Pakistan needs to be vaccinated as early as possible so that we could have normal routine activities,” PMA secretary general Dr. Qaisar Sajjad told Arab News, urging the government to speed up vaccination to curb the spread of the more infectious, deadlier United Kingdom variant of the disease.