Govt prefers free-of-cost Covid vaccine, PAC told

The Public Accounts Committee was informed on Thursday that the country was relying mostly on free doses being provided by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) to inoculate the citizens against the coronavirus as the Chinese-made vaccine – CanSino – would cost $13 or around Rs2,000 per person.

During a PAC meeting, headed by its Chairman Rana Tanveer Hussain, the officials of the Ministry of National Health Services and the National Institute of Health (NIH) said that Pakistan would get a total of 16 million free doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, which is being manufactured in India, through Gavi for inoculating 45 million people against the yearly target of 70 million.

“So, you are waiting to receive free vaccine,” the PAC chairman asked.

The official replied, “We wouldn’t need to purchase much.”

To a question posed by the PAC chairman, the officials said that Pakistan would receive the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India by mid-March and the rest of it is expected to arrive by June.

Read more: Modi takes home-grown vaccine as India widens immunisation drive

The health ministry and the NIH officials apprised PAC that phase three of the CanSino vaccine trials was completed for the first time in Pakistan with 75% efficacy, and that a total of 18,000 people were inoculated.

Additionally, they said, one million doses of Sinopharm vaccine were available in the country and around 275,000 frontline health workers were vaccinated.

The PAC members were surprised when the officials revealed the findings of a survey conducted in June that most of the people did not even realise that they had contracted Covid, while 15 per cent of the population had developed antibodies.

The members were of the view that the top leadership of the country should get inoculated first to expel doubts in the general public’s mind about the efficacy of the vaccine. “The PM should go for it first,” a member said.

“Heads of all the parties should go first; that would also be fine,” another member quipped.

Nevertheless, they agreed that the PM should lead from the front just like the leaders of some other countries, including Turkey, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, have.

“Let’s start with PAC,” another member quipped.

Shocking as it may seem, the health authorities said that no serious buyers from the private sector had come forward as the applications received so far were incomplete. The applicants, they said, had not even stated which vaccine and how many doses they wanted to import and where they planned to administer them.

In December, the health ministry said that the government had allowed the private sector to purchase the anti-Covid doses for the people who could pay through the nose before the government began its rollout.

“The government has given permission to the private sector to meet the requirement of that segment of society, which can afford it [vaccine],” the official statement of the health ministry read, giving a sign that the much sought-after Covid-19 vaccine would make its way to the private market as well.

Parliamentary Secretary Health Dr Nausheen Hamid had said that the government secured vaccine for 45 million people through Gavi Covax facility and had taken urgent measures to purchase additional vaccine for 10 million people for which the cabinet approved $150 million.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)