Pakistani pharmaceutical firms stop importing COVID-19 vaccines, say no longer ‘viable’ business

Workers off load boxes of COVID-19 vaccine from Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) aircraft in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 9, 2021. (Photo courtesy: PIA/File)
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Updated 06 September 2021

Pakistani pharmaceutical firms stop importing COVID-19 vaccines, say no longer ‘viable’ business

  • Local production of vaccines and government speeding up its procurement process diminished need for private imports
  • Vaccines privately imported by AGP and AJM Pharma were used at public and private medical facilities earlier this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani private pharmaceutical firms have halted efforts to import coronavirus vaccines for commercial use, officials at two major companies said on Monday, as the government has started locally producing jabs and expedited its vaccine procurement drive.
The government allowed private sector firms to import vaccines in December 2020, opening the possibility that people who could afford it would be able to buy the vaccine before a government rollout, which officially begin in February, prioritizing the elderly and health care workers.
After getting government permission, two privately owned pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan, AGP and AJM Pharma, had imported 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and 10,000 of the single-dose Chinese Convidecia vaccine, respectively. All jabs were used at private hospitals and other medical facilities in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. 
“We are not bringing any new vaccine shipment as this is no longer viable for business,” Umair Mukhtar, the communications head at AGP Pharma, told Arab News. 
He said the scope for privately procured vaccines was limited after a massive rollout by the government and the rapid lowering of the age limit for vaccine eligibility.
“After the use of our first batch, we tried to book more vaccines, but it couldn’t materialize due to some supply issues,” Mukhtar said. 
AGP Pharma had sold the vaccine to private hospitals that administered two doses per individual for over Rs12,000. 
Amitab Suresh, an official at AJM Pharma, said the company sold its initial shipment to the government to use at public hospitals: “Later, the government started producing it locally. Therefore, we aren’t importing the vaccine anymore.” 
The commercial use of vaccines triggered a debate about social divide and privilege in the country while public health experts warned that allowing the commercial sale of vaccines would open the door to fraud and fake jabs.
The government later picked up its procurement of vaccines from multiple sources, including purchases from Chinese companies like SinoVac, SinoPharm and CanSino Bio. It has also received millions of doses through COVAX – a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially for developing countries like Pakistan. 
More than 61.8 million people, out of Pakistan’s 125.85 million eligible population aged above 18, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since February, according to official figures. On Monday, fully vaccinated people constituted around 16 percent of the target population. 
All provinces across the country have ramped up efforts to boost their daily vaccination rate by launching door-to-door campaigns and restricting unvaccinated people from using public transport, buying fuel at petrol stations and availing other essential services. 

Pakistan reports fourth poliovirus case this year

Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistan reports fourth poliovirus case this year

  • All children infected by the crippling disease belong to Pakistan’s North Waziristan region
  • Health minister says parents must ensure their children are vaccinated against the disease

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health authorities on Wednesday confirmed fourth poliovirus case in the ongoing year, saying the disease has now paralyzed a 13-month-old boy in North Waziristan.

Young children under the age of five are considered extremely vulnerable to polio, though parents can protect them against its lifelong impact by building their immunity through vaccination.

Polio has been eliminated from the rest of the world, though Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to struggle with it.

“Another child in North Waziristan has been paralyzed by wild poliovirus. This 13-month-old child will live with disabilities for the rest of his life because of a virus that is entirely preventable. This is a collective loss for Pakistan,” said federal health minister Abdul Qadir Patel said in a statement.

“Over 99 percent of the world is now polio-free,” he added. “Our children also deserve a life free from this incurable disease.”

All children who have been infected by wild poliovirus this year belong to North Waziristan, where more cases are expected due to high refusal rates and instances of finger-marking without vaccination during campaign.

The Pakistan Polio Program has conducted emergency campaigns in the area, while children are administered the vaccine at all entry and exit points from southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the rest of the province and across the border to Afghanistan to control the spread of the virus.

“All parents must realize the risk that wild poliovirus continues to pose to children all over Pakistan. Please ensure that your children are vaccinated in the ongoing nationwide campaign being conducted in all 156 districts of the country,” Patel said.

Pakistan reported its first polio case this year on April 22, when a 15-month-old boy from the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan was found infected with the virus.

The case was reported after a gap of more than a year.


Pakistan’s top court instructs government to allow opposition rally near H-9 sector

Updated 14 min 7 sec ago

Pakistan’s top court instructs government to allow opposition rally near H-9 sector

  • The Supreme Court tells the government not to arrest Khan supporters in police raids
  • Government and Khan representatives have been instructed to hold consultations tonight

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday instructed the government to provide former prime minister Imran Khan’s political party a ground between Islamabad’s H-9 and G-9 sectors, reported the local media, to hold a protest demonstration while hearing a petition for the removal of road blocks in the federal capital.

The petition was filed by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association after the government blocked several roads in and around the capital to prevent the anti-government march initiated by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party which has been seeking dissolution of assemblies along with a date for fresh elections in the country.

The government also detained several PTI leaders and supporters in different Pakistani cities ahead of their scheduled march to Islamabad, making the court prevent the relevant authorities from making excessive use of force.

“The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the PTI to hold its Azadi March protest in the H-9 area of Islamabad and restrained the government from arresting party chairman Imran Khan,” reported Dawn newspaper.

It quoted the court as saying that it was “playing the role of the arbitrator,” adding the judges said no raids should be conducted on the homes of PTI workers.”

Pakistan’s Geo news channel said the three-member bench headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan demanded a plan that would allow PTI workers and followers to peacefully converge in the capital to register their protest before returning home.

The bench said it did not want the protesters to shut down places like Faizabad and the Motorway like in the past.

The court also instructed the government and PTI representatives to hold a meeting at the chief commissioner’s office tonight to work out the modalities of the protest demonstrations.

In dig at Imran Khan, PM says protest demonstrations cannot ‘fix’ national economy

Updated 52 min 31 sec ago

In dig at Imran Khan, PM says protest demonstrations cannot ‘fix’ national economy

  • PM criticizes the last government for leaving a ‘sinking economy’
  • Sharif says Khan sit-in delayed Chinese President Xi’s visit in 2014

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday criticized ex-premier Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for launching an anti-government campaign at a time of economic uncertainty, saying the financial challenges of the country could not be addressed through protest demonstrations.

Addressing a group of Chinese nationals working on a hydropower project on the Jhelum River, the prime minister, who was sworn in last month after Khan was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, said the last administration had handed over a “sinking economy” to his government after three and a half years in power.

He said his team was working day and night to deal with Pakistan’s economic challenges, including rising inflationary pressure.

“Now that we are trying to fix things, what kind of message are they giving [to the world] with such protests,” he asked, referring to Khan’s anti-government long march to the federal capital. “Can you improve the economy through sit-ins?”

The prime minister recalled that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled visit to Pakistan in September 2014 had to be postponed due to a similar demonstration by Khan’s PTI party in Islamabad.

“We beseeched [the PTI leadership] to call off their sit-in for three days to ensure the completion of President Xi’s visit,” he continued, “but Imran Khan remained obdurate, and the planned trip was delayed.”

Sharif said it was important to learn from past mistakes and give up a political attitude detrimental to Pakistan’s interests.
Khan has held several public rallies in recent weeks to call for fresh elections.

On Sunday he asked party supporters to join him in Islamabad on Wednesday for a sit-in to mount pressure on the government to announce a date for new elections.

The government has said Khan is trying to “sabotage” the economy by making it difficult for it to

‘Recipe for disaster’: Experts say political turmoil jolting economy as dollar hits historic low

Updated 25 May 2022

‘Recipe for disaster’: Experts say political turmoil jolting economy as dollar hits historic low

  • Pakistan’s economic woes compounded by anti-government march to capital by ex-PM Imran Khan
  • Rupee closes at Rs201.92 against US dollar, stock market traded 300 points below previous closing

KARACHI: Political turmoil in Pakistan over an opposition long march and uncertainty about the revival of a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program are continuing to jolt the country’s local currency, as the rupee hit another historic low against the United States dollar on Wednesday, closing at Rs201.92.

Pakistan’s economic woes have been compounded by an anti-government march to the capital announced by former prime minister Imran Khan. Clashes between Khan’s supporters and law enforcers on Wednesday have dampened investor confidence, economists and experts said.

On Wednesday, the country’s stock market also traded 300 points below the previous closing.

“The political noise and delay in the IMF [deal] has been affecting investor confidence. This is why the stock market and rupee are falling. Clarity on both will help restore confidence,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of the brokerage company Topline Securities, told Arab News. 

The rupee was expected to show some recovery after the Saudi minister of finance said on Tuesday the kingdom was finalizing extending a $3 billion deposit to Pakistan. 

“The market was expected to depict some positive sentiments [after Saudi announcement] but the current political situation overshadowed it,” Samiullah Tariq, director of research at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Pakistani economists and financial experts said the current political turmoil in the country was wreaking havoc on an already fragile economy. 

“The mayhem created by the call for the long march, coupled with [the government’s] unwise and violent means to stop PTI supporters, are going to completely wreck the already rustic and dysfunctional economic ship of Pakistan,” Dr. Ikram ul Haq, a Lahore-based financial expert, told Arab News. 

“With foreign reserves left for less than two months and the rupee plunging to the lowest in history by crossing the psychological barrier of 200, the call for the long march and the way it is being handled, is going to provide a sure recipe for disaster,” he added. 

Economic experts also say a nearly $1.5 billion fuel and electricity subsidy announced by the last government of Khan was proving to be an “economic land mine” for the current administration.

“The current economic crisis, whether it relates to the delay in the IMF program and fiscal stress, is to a large extent created by the outgoing government which laid economic land mines in the form of petroleum subsidies,” Dr. Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The current economic problems and political uncertainty have been inherited by the incumbent government but its indecisiveness has further compounded the situation,” he added. 

Pakistan is currently negotiating with the IMF to secure around $3 billion needed to stabilize its economy, marred by an ongoing political crisis, rising trade and fiscal deficit, and depleting foreign-exchange reserves, which at $10.2 billion, are not enough to cover even two months of imports. 

“The outgoing government, sensing that it was about to go, had announced the relief package to push the incoming government in troubling waters and [had also] frozen petroleum prices, which was not possible,” Amin said. “It has distorted the IMF program. Now the incumbent government is not removing the subsidies, fearing a political cost.”

Negotiations with the international money lender come at a time when Pakistan is battling the second-fastest inflation rate in Asia at 13.4 percent. To sail through the IMF deal, the country has to make the politically tough decision of raising fuel prices to ensure financial viability. 

“Already burdened with the unbearable fuel subsidy left by the PTI coalition government, those at the helm of affairs are making sure that the state loses its financial viability,” said Haq. 

Muzzamil Aslam, PTI’s spokesperson on finance, denied political rallies were destabilizing the economy. 

“It is the indecisiveness of the current government,” he said, “which is responsible for the economic turmoil.” 

Pilot safely ejects as air force trainer aircraft crashes near Mianwali city

Updated 25 May 2022

Pilot safely ejects as air force trainer aircraft crashes near Mianwali city

  • Pakistan’s armed forces have suffered several air accidents in recent years
  • In March, another PAF trainer aircraft crashed on training mission, two pilots killed

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistan Air Force (PAF) training aircraft crashed on Wednesday near the city of Mianwali during a routine training mission, PAF said, adding that the pilot had ejected safely.

In March this year, another PAF trainer aircraft crashed while on a training mission in the country’s northwest, killing the two pilots on board,

In another crash in March 2020, a PAF F-16 fighter jet crashed in a parade ground in the capital, Islamabad, killing the pilot as he was rehearsing for a Pakistan Day air show.

“Pilot ejected safely while no loss of life or property was reported on the ground,” PAF said about Wednesday’s crash. “A Board of Inquiry has been ordered by Air Headquarters to determine the cause of the incident.”

Pakistan’s armed forces have suffered several air accidents in recent years. A crash killed a female jet pilot in another training exercise in November 2015.

In May 2015, a military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourism project crashed, killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines.

Another military helicopter being used as an air ambulance crashed in August 2015 near the northern district of Mansehra, killing 12 people.