It is summertime madness out here. Covid-19 cases are climbing like a vengeance and the third wave seems to be battling the first that peaked sometime in June. By that measure, we have two more months of getting too close to the sun. For the first time since June in fact, daily coronavirus cases crossed 9,000 during the first week of April. The 7-day rolling average stands at about 5,400 which is dangerously close to the peak 7-day average of some 6,500 cases. The positivity rate has climbed to 11 percent, per NCOC’s latest situation report.
What has become abundantly apparent is that the government needs to adopt a multi-prong strategy to slow down the spread of the virus. This needs to be done through vaccination and various degrees of mobility restrictions. But any policy making without data is like the blind leading the blind—and no one, least of the all the onlookers, are any wiser.
Should there be a lockdown? How should the government contain the virus? How should the government protect the most vulnerable from losing their jobs and income sources if mitigating strategies include shutting down businesses or places of employment? How does the government ensure that those who cannot afford the private vaccine for a hefty fee of about Rs12,000 can access a jab? But first, how will the government identify who can afford the vaccine and who cannot; who is in need of support and who is not?
As earlier opined, there is a growing belief that the poorer segments were more immune to virus contraction. If this assertion is contrasted with the confirmed fact (according to a survey conducted by PBS) that poorer segments were more heavily impacted by lockdowns during the first wave, it would be a rather disconcerting piece of information. In fact, the curbing of economic activity during that time disproportionately hurt the poor and vulnerable segments whether they contracted the virus or not (read more: “The devil we know”, April 7, 2021). What is the government’s plan to ensure this does not happen in the coming future?
Then comes the second part—future planning. Is the government collecting data on vaccine efficacy to know how many people are contracting the virus after getting the full dose? Is the government collecting data on the type and intensity of symptoms being observed after the vaccine intake? These datapoints can help in at least an intermediate comparison of how the population is tolerating the vaccine and which vaccine is faring better than the others so that better decisions can be made by vaccine importers and the government. Another set of data that should be collected and synthesized is on people being admitted to the hospitals and the kind of treatment being offered to them which would help in analysing which treatments have worked and which have not.
Undoubtedly, there is whole list of data that can and should be collecting from real-time cases as the virus continues to show no signs of waning. Surveying can go hand-in-hand. Subsequently, such data, at least, that which shows the barebones should be reported. It is astonishing that there is no publicly available data on covid-19 vaccines in Pakistan. Whether it is being collected—and with what degree of granularity—is a fact unknown. According to a tweet by Asad Umar, more than 1 million doses have been administered for the covid-19 cases. The more precise number quoted by Our World in Data is 1.1 million doses—which should have vaccinated 550,000 people completely; allowing them to potentially stave off the virus and/or the symptoms associated to it.
While we know that these people include mostly healthcare workers and people above the age of 60. Any other information related to age, gender, geography, income level, and occupation demographics is not available. While the roll-out is painfully slow for now—and as a result, a lot of meaningful inferences cannot be gleaned immediately—the demand for the private sector vaccine is visibly palpable and data collection exercise on vaccinations need to pick up for the government to make better policy decisions, as a priority and to reveal a more honest picture of the program progress, as a by-product.