KARACHI: The Sindh government has urged the Centre to allow it procure a coronavirus vaccine, cautioning that a delay in procurement would make the country a “pariah” one.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho — while commenting on State Minister for Health Dr Faisal Sultan’s statement that the federal government wanted to obtain the vaccine with the highest efficacy — claimed: “You [Pakistan] have been left behind in the race [to procure a dose].”
“Look at other countries, are UK, US, Europe all rushing? Even African countries have started procurement. India has started vaccination, Turkey has started. [If] we continue to sit back, our people will get sick and die,” she added.
Dr Pechuho said in the government continued to delay the process, “the country will become a pariah internationally. Like polio, [Pakistanis] will have to show a coronavirus vaccination certificate, it would become hard to travel”.
The presser comes a day after Dr Sultan said the government was still “striving” to secure the first batch of vaccines for frontline healthcare workers. The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) even announced to have opened registrations for frontline healthcare workers who are set to receive the first doses of the vaccine.
“[However] the final order has not yet been placed and accepted [by any vaccine manufacturer],” he said.
In December, the government repeatedly said it had not only secured 1.1 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, but it was also negotiating additional doses from alternate sources.
At the time, Dr Sultan had repeatedly stressed that the initial doses were set for delivery around March, but he was “hoping” they could be secured by the end of January or start of February.
On Friday, he told a publication the government’s “target is to procure the vaccine in the first quarter of the current year, and we are confident of doing so. But it is quite difficult to say on which date we will acquire the vaccine”.
In her press conference, Dr Pechuho said that every vaccine had some side effects but there were no reports of major problems caused by any of the vaccines that are being used around the world.
She further said that it was important for people to be vaccinated as soon as possible so that they will be protected from the serious health problems that are caused by Covid-19.
Sindh Minister for Information Nasir Hussain Shah, who also addressed the press conference alongside Dr Pechuho, said that the federal government should allow the Sindh government to procure a vaccine if the Centre is unable to place orders.
Pechuho said that the Sindh government wanted to procure Sinopharm, which is produced by China, as well as other vaccines being manufactured around the world. The minister said trials of the Sinopharm vaccine had been successful and pointed out that it was being used in China, UAE and Bahrain as well.
“We have had no reports of any problems [caused by Sinopharm],” she told reporters. “The Chinese government had allowed ICCBS (International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences) to procure the vaccine as it conducted its trials. But the Chinese government told us to contact them through the federal government or the foreign ministry.
“So this is my request to the federal government to allow us to procure this vaccine,” the minister added. She said the Centre should also play its part in providing vaccines to Sindh but the provincial government must be allowed to procure vaccines for its residents also.
She emphasised that the Sindh government wanted to start a vaccination drive as soon as possible “so our people can be safe and secure”.
The health minister also stressed that more than one vaccine will have to be procured as it will not be possible to get just one in a quantity that would be enough to vaccinate the entire population.
Speaking about the Sputnik V vaccine, which has been developed by Russia, Pechuho said: “We cannot place orders with manufacturers because other countries have already placed orders for huge quantities.”
The Sindh health minister ruled out the Pfizer vaccine, saying that the country does not have the required storage facilities.
When asked about the patients of the UK virus variant, Pechuho said that all five of them were doing well and assured that the virus had not spread.
In December, the federal cabinet approved $250 million in funding to buy coronavirus vaccines, initially to cover the most vulnerable 5 per cent of the population, including the frontline health workers.