After a telephonic talk with his Chinese counterpart on Thursday, a jubilant Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced that China would gift half a million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Pakistan by the end of January. Ironically, the same day Bangladesh received two million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine as a gift from India. India has dispatched similar donations to some of its neighbours where it was gradually losing influence while China was gaining dominance. New Delhi has used the vaccine as a tool of diplomacy, exploiting its manufacturing heft to generate goodwill with its neighbours. By projecting itself as the “pharmacy of the world”, India aims at capturing the vaccine market in low and middle-income countries.
Pakistan would be the last country in South Asia to provide a coronavirus vaccine to its population. This is on account of the begging bowl mentality that characterizes the PTI government as it did its predecessors. Countries that cared for their population like Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE and Turkey placed orders for the vaccines on time and are currently administering it to large sections of their population. Turkey marked seven days of mass inoculations on Wednesday with more than 1 million people receiving jabs. Beginning January 13, Indonesia has rolled out a mass COVID-19 vaccination programme with President Joko Widodo becoming the first person in the country to be inoculated. Malaysia has 12.8 million doses already lined up while it has committed to purchasing an additional 12.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine.
Mr Qureshi is sadly mistaken to claim that China has considered Pakistan as the first country to be supplied with the covid-19 vaccine. Turkey’s first shipment comprised 3 million doses of the covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s SinoVac Biotech. The UAE is using China’s Sinopharm vaccine. Indonesia too has so far purchased 3 million ready-to-use vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
By the time 2020 ended, Pakistan had already lost 70 doctors and 26 health care workers to covid-19. It would be tragic if more of those who are required to save lives continue to fall when the vaccine is already available. The claim that the PTI government wants to obtain a vaccine of the highest efficacy is no more than a fig leaf to cover its lack of urgency.