Provinces, private sector can import, distribute approved vaccines: minister

Asad Umar says federal govt won't have monopoly over import of Covid vaccines

ISLAMABAD: A day after the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) approved the AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, the federal government said that it will not hold a monopoly on the import of vaccines.

Speaking to a private channel, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar — who also heads the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) which oversees the response to the virus — said that the private sector and the provinces and the administrative units are free to import the vaccines approved by the drug regulatory body.

His statement came a day after the Sindh government sought the Centre’s permission to import early shots, fearing a delay in procurement will make the country a “pariah” one.

Addressing a press conference, Sindh Minister for Health Dr Azra Pechuho, while criticising the federal government for “delaying” the procurement, said that if the government “continue[d] to sit back, our people will get sick and die”.

Responding to Dr Pechuho’s remarks, Umar said: “From day one, the NCOC has adopted the policy that the federal government will not have monopoly over importing anti-coronavirus vaccines.”

“Provinces and private entities including hospitals have been allowed to import the vaccines that are approved by DRAP.”

Umar said that once the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the regulatory authority, it may be imported by the Sindh government if the latter could procure supplies from abroad. He further said that he encouraged not only the Sindh government “but all provincial governments to import the vaccine from abroad”.

Responding to Dr Pechuho, the minister said that he wanted to clear any misunderstandings, stating that provinces were free as a matter of policy since day one to import vaccines after approval.

On multiple occasions, the government said that its vaccines would be procured from multiple sources. After DRAP approved the AstraZeneca’s vaccine, co-developed by the University of Oxford, Saturday, the government said it has also given the approval to get more than a million doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine from China.

The Chinese vaccine is awaiting approval from the DRAP, which has received and reviewed its data.

“We are in the process to obtain Western origin and other vaccines both via bilateral purchase agreements as well as via the COVAX facility,” State Minister for National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan said.

Umar said that the Sinopharm vaccine was also approved by a technical committee and only the matter of its name for local distribution remained, which would be decided by Tuesday.

He further said that Beijing was itself working directly with Islamabad to facilitate doses of Sinopharm and “they will let us know about the first batch of vaccines by Tuesday.”

Speaking about China’s CanSino vaccine for which phase three clinical trials are currently underway in Pakistan, he said that results of its trial would arrive by the second half of February and “if those are positive then it too will be available in March”.

A day earlier, Dr Sultan said that the government is speaking to a number of vaccine makers, and the country could get “in the range of tens of millions” of vaccine doses under an agreement with CanSino.

The company’s Ad5-nCoV Covid-19 candidate is nearing completion of Phase-III clinical trials in Pakistan.

Umar said that with Pakistan being a signatory to the Covax alliance, vaccines from multiple sources would be procured and made available in the first quarter of the year.

Covax is an alliance that had been set up by Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and World Health Organisation in April last year.

It has pledged provision of free vaccine for 20 percent of the population of around 190 countries, including Pakistan.

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