While Pakistan has yet to start a Covid vaccination drive, signs are emerging that it’s going to happen pretty soon. After China’s announcement of ‘gifting’ 500,000 doses of a vaccine to Pakistan by the end of January, another good news on free-of-cost availability of a vaccine has come from the World Health Organization. In a statement last Sunday, the world body has announced signing of an agreement for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and another arrangement for AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine for procurement of two billion doses by the end of the current year. And 150 million of these doses will be made available in the first quarter of the ongoing month.
The agreements have come under the WHO-led Covax programme — a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of income level. Covax is an alliance that had been set up in April last year by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and WHO. It has pledged free vaccine for 20% of Pakistan’s population.
Of the two billion doses to be procured under the Covax programme, 1.3 billion will be provided to 92 lower-income economies, including Pakistan, says the UN’s health agency. Therefore, chances of Pakistan getting the free doses in the first quarter of the current year seem to have brightened. And this is why the Ministry of National Health Services has termed it a positive development and expressed the hope that vaccination against the coronavirus will start soon.
A cash-strapped Pakistani government has earmarked a meager amount of $150 million for Covid vaccination campaign, with the amount just enough for 0.2% population. The country is thus heavily relying on free procurement of a vaccine in pursuit of vaccinating at least 70 million people to achieve ‘herd immunity’. The government has also rightly allowed import of vaccine by the private sector so as to cut the burden of the affording class. A mix of this all could take us to the pre-Covid normal.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2021.