ISLAMABAD: After Prime Minister Imran Khan officially launched the COVID-19 vaccination drive on Tuesday, the government is convinced that it will be able to vaccinate all Pakistanis by the year’s end.
“My worry is there will be more vaccines and not enough people willing to have themselves injected,” says Asad Umar, the Head of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), the institution charged with distributing and administering the vaccine.
A maximum of 70 million people will have to be vaccinated for Pakistan to reach herd immunity, this includes only those above 18 years of age as those under 18 do not require a vaccine. In addition, those who have already been infected and recovered are not included in this estimate, although experts argue that those who have recovered from the disease also count towards achieving herd immunity. This is encouraging news as given Pakistan’s high recovery rate, it will arguably be able to achieve herd immunity even if the NCOC cannot reach the 70 million target.
As of now Pakistan has booked, been gifted or obtained commitments for enough doses to cover 65.25 million Pakistanis. The half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese government will cover a quarter of a million people (it is a two-dose vaccine), another Chinese vaccine, Cansino, is in the latter stages of approval and Pakistan is slated to receive enough doses to vaccinate 20 million.
Furthermore, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) has pledged to provide vaccines for 45 million Pakistanis, either from AstraZeneca or Pfizer.
On top of the above-mentioned vaccines, Pakistan has also initiated talks to acquire the Russian Sputnik vaccine. This is particularly promising for a country like Pakistan given its 93 percent efficacy rate and cheaper storage cost. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Russian offering can be stored at warmer temperatures, making it a more viable option for developing countries like Pakistan.
While the private sector has been authorised to acquire vaccines independently, only those registered with and approved by the NCOC will be permitted for use in Pakistan.