Despite a feeble start to the vaccine roll-out, over the past two months, the Covid-19 vaccination program has taken incredible leaps in Pakistan. There is no task more daunting than attempting to inoculate 70 percent of a (above-18) population the size of Pakistan, and while regional players may be ahead, Pakistan is slowly on the way to vaccinating a large portion of its population while also successfully beating the third way down. The 7-day rolling average currently stands at 1,223 cases, with a positivity rate of 2.59 percent. This is progress.
And there is a lot to celebrate. With an estimated spending of $250 million so far, the government has received 14.06 million doses from multiple sources which include gifts from China and donation of AstraZeneca and Pfizer from the international COVAX/GAVI arrangement. Seemingly, the commitment from GAVI for AstraZeneca was much higher, but due to supply shortages, that will not materialize. In the budget speech, FM Shaukat Tarin believes the government will be able to vaccinate at least a 100 million people by June-22 with a fund allocation of $1.1 billion—over 4 times of the current spending that has gone into vaccine procurement. By the end of the current calendar year, the government is expected to receive 90 million doses of different vaccines including 12 million doses of Pfizer, of which 1 million doses will arrive next month. The government is procuring Pfizer directly from the manufacturer.
Prudently, the government has outlined a criteria for the more effective and the higher-in-demand Pfizer which will only be administered to people pre-existing health conditions that have compromised immune systems. This is an efficient way to utilize Pfizer which uses a modern mRNA technology that has shown tremendous results against the covid-19 virus.
Other doses already procured from Chinese companies are also arriving as the vaccination drive picks up pace—the daily vaccination capacity across the country is over 300,000 doses. The total 18.7 million doses (already purchased) will arrive by the end of the month. In addition to that, the National Institute of Health is locally assembling together the CanSino vaccine under the label PakVac. The facility has the capacity to churn out 3 million doses each month which will greatly supplement vaccine availability if imports dry out.
While vaccine hesitancy is definitely a real concern, and the off-take could be faster, consumer surveys indicate perceptions are changing as more people get the jab (read more: “Somewhere between luck and action”, May 31, 2021). The government is also ramping up the awareness drive on vaccination, now that it is in a position to actually vaccinate a large number of people and has a level of preparedness that took its sweet time to start reflecting in numbers.