The second wave of COVID-19 has affected Pakistan much more than the first. It was actually predicted at the outset that the resurgence of the pandemic will be considerably more problematic than the first wave and this prediction has been proven true. The low infection and mortality rate experienced in the previous stage certainly increased putting large swathes of population at risk of getting infected and hospitalised. Though the official authorities of the country were bracing themselves up for this eventuality but the people were not as they kept on taking the disease lightly. Many lockdowns were half-heartily taken but the high risk of infection remained.
The result of the devastating potential of the second surge is that the number of infections have increased manifold although their quantum is not as devastating as experienced by countries such as the UK and America but still it has grown into quite a widespread worry and has put tremendous pressure on the healthcare system of the country. As the death toll surpassed the 10,000 mark and a number of countries have pre-booked vaccines based on preliminary or incomplete results to ensure availability, a special cabinet committee decided to pre-book 1.1 million doses of vaccine from a Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm.
The decision was taken on the day when Sinopharm announced that its vaccine was 79.34 per cent effective and its availability is now contingent upon emergency use approval by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan. Once approved and procured, the government will provide free-of-cost vaccine to all frontline health workers in the first quarter of 2021. It was officially stated that 1.1 million doses would be procured well before the end of the first quarter of 2021 and administered to frontline workers. As two doses will be given to each individual, vaccine will be administered to 500,000 persons with a margin of 10 per cent spoilage of vaccine. In second phase, vaccine will be procured for the citizens over 65 years of age and that the start of the second phase vaccine from a number of other companies would also be available.
It was also decided that other manufacturers of the vaccine would continue to be engaged for future bookings for the remaining phases of vaccination, based on further data and availability. It was also decided that the private sector would also be encouraged to follow the laid down procedures for emergency use authorisation of any available and safe vaccine. The authorities have developed National Immunisation Management System (NIMS) to ensure efficient supply chain management and administration of vaccine. The system will enable automated phase wise registration of citizens for vaccine through SMS/ internet, based on CNIC numbers. Immunisation mechanism will be intimated to citizens shortly. NIMS will be made available by mid of January.
In the meanwhile, the data released showed that with 2,155 new cases and 55 more deaths in a single day, the death toll surged to 10,047. As many as 299 ventilators were in use across Pakistan with 44% ventilators in Multan followed by 41% occupied in Islamabad, 32% in Lahore and 30% in Peshawar. While national positivity ratio was 5.92, the highest positivity ratio was recorded in Karachi that 13.84%, followed by 8.79% in Hyderabad and 7.89% in Swat. In all, 2,219 patients of coronavirus across Pakistan were in critical condition.
It was also reported that with a special plane expected to depart for China to bring the first tranche of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine, it was also announced that around seven million doses of AstraZeneca would also reach Pakistan in the first quarter of the current year. AstraZeneca’s 1.7 million vaccines, out of which 35-40% (6-6.8 million) doses will be available within the first quarter, and the rest in the second quarter of 2021, are an encouraging figure to work with. Covax’s timely support and delivery of the vaccine is testament of global stakeholders’ trust in Pakistan’s preparedness for vaccine roll-out as the authorities plan to undertake large-scale immunisation over the coming months this year. Though AstraZeneca is being prepared in India but it will come through Covax, an international alliance which has announced free vaccine for 20 per cent of Pakistan’s population.
The National Command and Operation Centre’s (NCOC) has deliberated at length on the vaccine administration strategy and necessary measures, particularly logistics. All necessary measures have been put in place for vaccine storage in Islamabad and its transfer to other federating units, particularly Sindh and Balochistan, by air. The Chinese vaccine would be sufficient for 250,000 healthcare workers as two doses were required for every person. As 400,000 healthcare workers have registered themselves, it has therefore been decided that instead of considering the population of the federating units, the number of registered healthcare workers would be considered before dispatching the vaccine. In this way, the vaccine can be dispatched for 30 per cent, 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the registered healthcare workers and it would take two to three weeks to vaccinate healthcare workers and was hopeful that the new consignment would arrive before its utilisation.
Two government sources mentioned that the first batch would be flown in on Saturday. Pakistan has so far approved three coronavirus vaccines — the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned firm China National Pharmaceutical Group (SinoPharm) and Russian-developed Sputnik V. Officials say the authorisations will be reviewed quarterly with regard to safety, efficacy and quality. It was also mentioned that tens of millions of vaccine doses will soon start coming under an agreement with China’s Cansino Biologics Inc. Cansino’s Ad5-nCoV vaccine candidate is nearing completion of Phase III clinical trials in Pakistan and preliminary results may be available by mid-February. The government also expects China to donate a further million vaccine doses. In addition, the government would procure vaccines from various markets as there would be an accumulation of vaccines, a consortium available in which there is going to be Chinese vaccines as well as AstraZeneca.
Meanwhile, the availability of free-of-cost Covid-19 vaccine seems to have been assured for Pakistan as Covax announced earlier this month that it will acquire 150 million doses in the first quarter and two billion doses by the end of the year. It further said that, out of the two billion doses, 1.3 billion will be provided to 92 lower-income economies. As a result of this agreement, the chances of Pakistan getting the free doses in the first quarter of the current year seem to have brightened.
The NCOC had outlined the country’s vaccination strategy revealing an eight-step process for registration and vaccination once the vaccines become available. The strategy was developed after consultation with all provinces and relevant stakeholders and is according to established international health guidelines. The purpose of the strategy is to vaccinate people in a healthy environment and in accordance with health guidelines through a concrete plan.
The NCOC meeting also reviewed the coronavirus situation and reopening of educational institutions. It was decided that all universities and primary and middle schools across the country will reopen on 1 February and students in four big cities — Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Peshawar — would attend educational institutions on alternate days, maintaining a daily strength of 50 per cent of total students. TW