10th April 2021

By Asra Haque


LAHORE

The government has 460,000 doses of the COVID -19 vaccines left to inoculate millions of its citizens desperately awaiting to be vaccinated. The government’s recent announcement that vaccinations may be opened to all citizens post-Eid is puzzling as with just 460,000 confirmed doses left to its disposal, how will the government inoculate millions of people?
Voicepk.net created a timeline of vaccine imports in order to track and collate the reported number of available doses, which will help assuage just how many vaccines are currently available for a population of 216.6 million.

In an April 8 briefing to select senior journalists, National Command and Operations Center (NCOC) and Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar stated that the government has so far inoculated 1.1 million citizens against the novel coronavirus disease, while some 14,000 citizens received their shots through the private sector, amounting to approximately 1.114 million Pakistanis now protected against the ongoing pandemic.

With a population of 216.6 million as of 2019 according to the World Bank, the government has managed to vaccinate to a paltry 0.51% of the population with some 1.56 million confirmed doses of Chinese vaccines at its disposal. At the time of publishing of this article, Pakistan currently has just 460,000 vials left to go about the remaining 215.5 million citizens, with only a vague hope that an anticipated consignment of some three million doses will reach the country by mid-April.

The Government of Pakistan has been strangely evasive when it comes to figures spent so far from the $150 million fund it had allocated for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, and the exact number of vaccines bought. The story is always the same: that there are still plenty of vaccines remaining in supply and funds to purchase more doses in the bank.

The federal government has time and again reiterated its confidence in securing the populace against the ongoing pandemic, which so far has taken 2.91 million lives the world over, including more than 15,000 people in Pakistan. But without any real numbers, how can the state expect citizens to ascribe to the same optimism with which the government appears to be tackling COVID-19?

Is such optimism even warranted? A cursory glance at the approximate numbers that are available to the media reveal that Pakistan’s vaccination drive is soon approaching a dead-end, unless millions of doses are acquired very soon.

January 30

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan announced that Pakistan secured 17 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine through COVAX, a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for the Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance among others.

Under this initiative, about two billion AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer) under the brand name Covi-shield will be distributed to the poorest nations in the world, including Pakistan.
Dr. Sultan clarified that seven million vials will reach the country in the first half of 2021 and the remaining ten million in the next half.

February 1

The first batch of Sinopharm vaccines arrived in Pakistan. Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi extended his gratitude to Chinese President Xi Jinping for 500,000 of a promised 1,000,000 million doses in what Pakistan termed “a testament of the friendship between China and Pakistan” during the handover ceremony.

First batch of Sinopharm arrives in Pakistan
Shah Mehmood Qureshi received the first consignment of China’s gifted Sinopharm vaccines from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in an official ceremony at the Islamabad Airport. Source: Pakistan Foreign Ministry

February 2

Pakistan launched its mass COVID-19 vaccination drive with the aim of inoculating 400,000 registered frontline healthcare workers in phase one of the government’s three-step inoculation plan. Phase two would open up vaccinations for the elderly, citizens aged 65 and above, after which the general populace would qualify for state-administered vaccines.

PIMS doctor becomes first to receive Sinopharm shot
50-year-old Professor Dr. Rana Imran Sikandar, an anaesthetist and critical care specialist at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) was the first frontline healthcare worker to receive the Sinopharm shot in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan and federal ministers. Source: Government of Pakistan

February 18

Dr. Faisal Sultan announced that Pakistan would receive 2.8 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses through COVAX by March 2. This was the last time the government would make any mention of AstraZeneca. As of today, Pakistan has yet to receive any of the 17 million doses it had secured with the scheme as a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and a shortfall of doses in India prompted its government to restrict vaccine exports in order to control the situation at home, depriving many a dependent country including Pakistan.

March 10

Pakistan began administering Sinopharm vaccines to citizens aged 65 and above.

March 17

Pakistan received the remaining 500,000 donated Sinopharm vaccines, raising the total number of vaccines allocated to the government’s inoculation drive to 1 million.

Moreover, a consignment of 50,000 of Russia’s state-manufactured Sputnik V, purchased by the private pharmaceutical firm AGP, arrived in Pakistan.

March 18

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) issued a notification to AGP, restricting the firm from selling Sputnik V, which is reported to have an efficacy of 90%, as the Federal Government had yet to fix a price for the vaccine, and holding the consignment at the port until further notice.

March 30

Asad Umar announced that Pakistan will import Chinese firm CanSino Biologics’ (CanSinoBIO for short) Convidecia vaccine in a bulk amount, estimated to make 3 million single-shot doses. The shipment is expected to arrive mid-April.

Convidecia is reported to have an efficacy of approximately 66%, although the manufacturer would later issue a statement that it may drop to 50% some six months after inoculation and may require another jab.

March 31

Two consignments of 500,000 Sinopharm and 60,000 Convidecia doses, purchased by the Federal Government, arrived in Pakistan, raising Pakistan’s total capacity to 1.56 million vaccines. Additionally, Dr. Faisal Sultan announced that they will receive another batch of 500,000 Sinopharm doses in the next 24 hours, which would raise the total vaccine tally to over 2.5 million.

April 1

Asad Umar took to Twitter to announce that 500,000 Sinopharm doses purchased by the Federal Government were due to arrive in the late evening. But unlike previous consignments, there has been no word that this fourth Sinopharm shipment ever reached Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in a concurrent development, the Sindh High Court temporarily allowed the commercial sale of Sputnik V procured by private pharma firm AGP, stating that “any restriction relating to sale of the COVID-19 vaccine at this stage would be against the public interest because of its undisputed urgent need due to the crisis faced by the country.”

April 7

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a two-day diplomatic visit to Pakistan announced that Russian will provide 150,000 doses of Sputnik V. Whether the vaccines are to be a generous donation or a pre-purchase offer are not immediately clear.

We are now here…

With a population of 216.6 million as of 2019 according to the World Bank, the government has managed to vaccinate a paltry 0.51% of the population with some 1.56 million confirmed doses of Chinese vaccines at its disposal. According to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, Pakistan’s current rate of inoculation will see 75% of its citizens (the ratio of a population required to create herd immunity) immunized against COVID-19 in a decade.

Bloomberg's Vaccine Tracker

With nations prioritizing inoculating their populations against the pandemic over exporting vaccine supplies to needy nations, it comes as a shock that the Government of Pakistan is affording so much faith in donations and purchases reaching the country on time. As of today, there is no information on when those 17 million AstraZeneca doses secured late last year will arrive. The fourth batch of 500,000 Sinopharm doses that were meant to land on April 1 may or may not be in the state’s cache of vaccines.

In four days, Pakistan may or may not receive a bulk consignment of three million Convidecia doses which can keep the state’s inoculation drive going. And with government’s recent announcement that vaccinations may be opened to all citizens post-Eid, one has to wonder how such a feat will be possible with just 460,000 confirmed doses left in Pakistan’s arsenal.

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