The chief of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) Asad Umar has made it clear that there is no truth to the notion that Pakistan is not planning on buying coronavirus vaccines.
Speaking to Geo News on programme “Naya Pakistan”, the Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives said that in fact, the $150 million budget set aside for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines that had been approved by the cabinet can be increased if required.
Umar was responding to reports that the National Health Service (NHS) Secretary Amir Ashraf Khawaja had informed the Public Accounts Committee that the government aims to combat coronavirus through herd immunity and donated vaccines and has no plan to purchase doses at least this year.
Umar said while Pakistan, in line with other countries, does not plan to vaccinate youngsters aged 18 years or younger, around 110 million people are those who must be vaccinated and the government plans on vaccinating at least 60-70% of this number.
The minister said that the doses that will arrive through the GAVI initiative will ensure vaccination for 45 million people, leaving around 30 million who will need additional vaccines. For these, the government will purchase more doses, he said.
“Purchase deals are being made with two companies. We have closed the deal with one and in two to three days will be sealing it with the other.
“From end of March to the end of April we will have several hundred thousand of these purchased vaccines as well,” the minister said.
“Procurement of vaccines will not be stopped due to monetary considerations,” Umar asserted.
‘I appeal to people to get vaccinated’
Speaking of a slow rate of vaccinations and the strategy being employed for Pakistan, Umar said people are not registering as much as they should be.
He said less than 10% of those who are 60 or above have registered so far to get vaccinated.
“There is a great need for people to get registered and come get vaccinated. I appeal to people — at least those who are above 60 — to immediately get registered so we can be done vaccinating the high-risk group,” the minister said.
Pakistan vs the world
Responding to data from Worldometer that shows Pakistan lags far behind in vaccinations, he said that there are vaccines available in Pakistan, but a lack of willingness among people to step up and get the jab.
Umar said India has the greatest vaccine manufacturing capacity after which China has the most in the region. He said India, owing to its availability and because it was able to start early, got ahead.
He said in Pakistan, around 350,000 doses have so far been utilised.
Why are Pakistanis so reluctant?
When asked what the reason could be for not getting registered, he said Pakistanis have a lackadaisical attitude about coronavirus itself.
“When there is no fear of the virus, why will anyone bother?”
He said another reason could also be because it is a new thing and the fear will reduce with time. He added that no serious side effects have so far been witnessed to the vaccine.
Availability for other groups
The minister was also asked why the government does not consider making it available for other groups if the elderly and healthcare workers are not showing interest in getting vaccinated.
To this, he said: “We have seen that if a 60-year-old contracts coronavirus it has a greater toll on that person versus a young 20-year old.”
“We will see for a week or 10 days more. If we see people are not coming in, we will move to the 50 and above age group.”
Speaking of the COVAX doses that were to begin arriving in March, he said the initiative had promised 17 million doses by June and that the supply will begin in March. “The number has now been revised to 16 million and they are still saying that supply will begin before end of March,” Umar said.
He said that there is a two week delay because the export licence from India for all the countries designated to receive supply from the country had not been obtained. Approval had been given for African countries only and not Asian countries.