The speed of Covid-19 inoculation is swinging GDPs growth across the globe. The IMF has revised its forecast – higher for advanced economies and lower for emerging economies – primarily based on the varying density of vaccinated population. The business hub of Pakistan – Karachi, is currently battling with the growing Delta variant. A lockdown is currently imposed across the city. If 60-70 percent of the the city’s vaccine-eligible population was vaccinated, the response could have been different. Currently, 24 percent of Karachi’s population (above 18 years) is either fully or partially vaccinated, even as the pace of vaccine administration has grown.
The progress in other urban cities is similar or better than Karachi. The eligible population that is vaccinated is 25 percent for Lahore, 47 percent for Islamabad, 33 percent for Peshawar and 15 percent for Quetta. These ratios include both fully and partially vaccinated folks. The good news is that vaccinated speed has picked up. On 30th July, 904,740 (almost a million) jabs were administered. The total doses administered thus far is 29.6 million with 6.3 million Pakistanis fully vaccinated.
Finally, the government has sped up the vaccination process and simultaneously, the government is also buying vaccines. In June, over $100 million worth of vaccine was procured. The number is likely to increase in coming months. Now the challenge is to manage and hasten vaccine administration as the virus further mutates. Lately, in Karachi, vaccine centers are choked with human traffic with very long hours of wait. Many of these centers are not following social distancing and other SOPs which could actually become a noose if a virus outbreak occurs at one of these centers.
On the one hand, vaccine hesitancy has visibly reduced as more people are willing to get the jab but on the other hand, vaccine administration and logistics is not keeping up with the increase in demand. That is not to say vaccine disbelievers have been completely converted—that process must continue as there is still a significant share of the population that is not willing to get the vaccine. The more immediate concern however is to ensure vaccines are available at the centers and the inflow of traffic is managed efficiently by local administrators. Not to mention, SOPs are strictly followed.
It is extremely important from both the health and economic point of view to speed up the vaccination. The Delta variant spreading in Karachi is extremely potent and is considered to be more dangerous than earlier covid strains. It is more transmissible and more contagious which amplifies its lethality and makes it even more urgent for the country to vaccinate a large number of population as soon as possible. If the virus spreads unabated, it threatens massive fatalities as the inadequate healthcare infrastructure crumbles under the pressure. Karachi being the port city supplies goods and services to the rest of the country. Frequent lockdowns in the city can halt business activity across the country. With 76 percent population still not vaccinated, the dangers to the people and the economy are too high.
According to some studies, partially-vaccinated people are four times less vulnerable to contract the virus while fully vaccinated are even more safe. The magnitude of severity is also lower for the vaccinated population. The countries who have managed to vaccinate a significant share of the population are coming fast back to normalcy – like UK and the US. On the other hand, countries like Australia who have been conservative in vaccinations are continuing to stay in lockdown mode. But while the rich countries can afford to do that, countries like Pakistan simply cannot.
The government is mulling on options to make sure people get vaccination. The government should build capacity on SOPs implementation as well as vaccine administration. The federal and provincial governments should ramp up their vaccine advocacy campaign using all forums and mediums of communication and perhaps, even incentivize people to get the vaccine. There is a global debate happening right now on whether employers (and government) should force employees, customers and citizens to get the covid-19 vaccine—and there is no simple answer to that complex question as both side of the argument holds merit—the government should do as much as it can to nudge the population toward vaccines, make sure vaccine hesitancy is not prevailing due to misinformation and conspiracy theories, and most of all, make it easy and accessible for people to get the jab.
As urban centers are more vulnerable, they should be the government’s top priority. At the current pace, Karachi can be fully vaccinated by December. If we assume a safety target of 70 percent, some urban centers can reach that safety level even earlier than December. The focus then should be to move to rural, and the huge chunk of population between 12-18 which is also becoming vulnerable to the covid-19 virus and its emerging variants.