Pakistan yet to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine: report

Top federal government health officials have confirmed that Pakistan has yet to officially place any final order on the procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine, adding that so far no vaccine manufacturer has accepted the country’s request for supply of the vaccine.

While several developed nations have already begun vaccinating their frontline workers against the coronavirus, developing countries like Pakistan still struggle to acquire safe and effective vaccines.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan stated: “Although, we are striving hard to get the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine at the earliest for our frontline workers and others the final order has not yet been placed and accepted [by any vaccine manufacturer]”.

China’s Sinopharm has submitted its data with Pakistan’s Drug Regulatory Authority (DRAP), the SAPM confirmed, adding that the health authorities are engaged in negotiations for the supply of vaccines.

However, there has been no agreement with them currently, he clarified.

It is pertinent to mention that two Chinese anti-coronavirus vaccine candidates have submitted their data to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), seeking a grant for emergency use.

According to a health official, the first limited supply for the vaccine is likely to start from February.

The phase III clinical trials for Ad5-nCoV vaccine, being developed by CanSino Biologics and the Chinese military-backed research unit, at the Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad will end this week. “The trials began in September last year with a target of 17,500 volunteers,” said the lead physician of the clinical trial, Dr Ejaz A Khan. The clinical trial is being supervised by the National Institute of Health.

The physician, who is also the chairman of infection control at the hospital, said the sample will be reviewed by Dalhousie University in Canada. “The university will determine the efficacy of the vaccine.” The trial will then enter phase IV which is when a vaccine is green-lighted for manufacturing, marketing, and distribution, he added.

The first-ever large-scale trial in Pakistan was conducted at five centres; two in Karachi and Lahore each and, one in Islamabad.

In the federal capital, the Shifa International Hospital repurposed a building previously used for Covid-19 testing for the trial where volunteers, recruited through NGOs, hospitals, and corporations, arrived by appointment.

To volunteer, the individual must be 18 and above, not have tested positive for Covid-19, not have immune deficiencies, and not be pregnant for the trial duration. The hospital also provided a one-time Rs2,000 compensation for travel and food expenses.

Meanwhile, heath authorities shared that the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine was only found to be 50.4 per cent effective in Brazilian clinical trials which shows that more data is required as using a 50 per cent effective vaccine would be a total waste of efforts and resources.

“We need to assess the data of the vaccine’s efficacy ourselves before selecting it for the population. We would prefer a vaccine which has an emergency use authorisation either from US FDA, European authorities or the World Health Organisation or its data shows at least 80-90 per cent efficacy and safety,” a DRAP official said.

“The [third] vaccine candidate is Cansino, whose trials are currently underway and they are a couple of weeks away from submitting their data to us. We are also interested in Russian vaccine Sputnik V, who have submitted some data but we have sought more data from them,” SAPM Dr Faisal added.

“We are trying to get AstraZeneca vaccine both through the Covax facility and through direct procurement,” he added, explaining that Pakistan is also in negotiations with Western manufacturers.

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