Commercial sale of coronavirus vaccines to begin shortly

Private lab to receive Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine within a week

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: A private laboratory will soon receive Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine for commercial sale, a company official said on Sunday, making Pakistan one of the first countries to market shots privately as it scrambles to secure supplies.
Last week, Russia’s Sputnik V became the third coronavirus vaccine to receive EUA (emergency use authorisation) after China’s Sinopharm and the one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Despite concerns over fairness and higher prices, the government agreed this week to allow the commercial import and sale of vaccines without price caps, in contrast to most countries, which are importing and administering vaccines through government channels.
“We are told the first shipment is expected within the next week,” Chughtai Lab Director Omar Chughtai told Reuters, adding it would be receiving several thousand doses.
Pakistan’s decision to allow private sales of vaccines without a price cap in a lower-income country of 220 million people faces criticism.
Former special assistant to prime minister on national health services Zafar Mirza, while praising government efforts to procure and distribute the free vaccine, said that avoiding a price cap for private sales “will deepen inequality in society at a time when there is a need to have widespread coverage.”
The government launched a vaccination drive this month with 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by longtime friend China. But aside from the donated Chinese doses, Islamabad has not completed any deals to buy vaccines.
Sputnik V is one of four vaccines approved for emergency use in Pakistan, in addition to those by China’s Sinopharm and CanSinoBio, and the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot.
Chughtai Lab aims to import the others as well, but Sputnik V was the first to become available, Chughtai said.
Minister of State for Health Faisal Sultan told Reuters in a message he was “not directly aware” of the deal.
Chughtai declined to specify import costs or prices but said the price would “appear inflated” compared to what has been reported for Sputnik V globally, given the smaller volume it was planning to sell relative to global procurement.
Sputnik V’s developers have said the two-dose vaccine would be sold at $10 per dose.
“Internationally there is very high demand, and I would not be surprised if the price points are higher today,” Chughtai said, adding that prices will come down over the next three to four months as more vaccine becomes available.
“The biggest challenge around the vaccines globally right now is the allocation to specific countries,” he said.
Chughtai said that his Lahore-based pathology lab had turned down “grey market” offers from people in various countries who had “extra vaccine” not officially meant for re-export.
The lab is importing Sputnik V through Ali Gohar Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad.
Chughtai said that he expected an official government decree in the next two days specifying rules on inoculations by the private sector, including on registration of recipients. The company expects to receive shipments every four to five days.
Pakistan will soon 17 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine under the COVAX scheme, the British High Commission said on Sunday, which would therein guarantee the protection of 8 million people.
According to a statement from the Commission, the country will receive “17 million doses of the vaccine before April”.
Thereafter, “before June”, Pakistan will receive an “additional 10 million doses”, said the statement.
Previously, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar had said that delivery would start in February and about 6 million doses would arrive by March.
The remainder is expected to be received by the end of the year’s first half, he said on Twitter in Janurary of this year, reported Andalou Agency.
The COVAX facility is an initiative by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure fair distribution of the coronavirus vaccines around the world.
Islamabad “signed with COVAX nearly 8 months back to ensure availability,” Asad had added at the time.
The vaccination of frontline healthcare workers is underway across the country, wherein the national tally on Sunday showed the total of active cases recorded 25,635. 1,404 more people tested positive for the deadly virus and 1,387 people recovered from the disease during the last 24 hours.
31 coronavirus patients have died during past 24 hours, 26 of them were under treatment in hospital and five in their respective quarantines or at their homes on Saturday, according to the latest update issued by the National command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
During the last 24 hours, most of the deaths had occurred in Sindh, followed by Punjab.
The maximum ventilators were occupied in four major areas, including 37 per cent in Multan, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) 30 per cent, Peshawar 25 per cent and Lahore 37 per cent.
Oxygen beds (alternate oxygen providing facility other than ventilator administered as per medical requirement of the patient) were also occupied in four major areas, with a 61 per cent occupation in Gujrat, Peshawar 38 per cent, Multan 23 per cent, and Lahore 22 per cent.
Around 264 ventilators were occupied elsewhere in the country while no affected person was on ventilator in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) or Balochistan.
Some 34,475 tests were conducted across the country on Saturday, including 10,584 in Sindh, 12,586 in Punjab, 6,184 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 3,485 in ICT, 701 in Balochistan, 370 in GB, and 565 in AJK.
Around 525,087 people have recovered from the disease so far across Pakistan, giving the country over 90 per cent recovery ratio.
Since the pandemic outbreak, a total of 563,029 cases were detected that also included the perished, recovered and under treatment Covid-19 patients so far, including AJK 9,448, Balochistan 18,929, GB 4,940, ICT 42,590, KP 69,778, Punjab 163,833 and Sindh 253,511.
About 12,307 deaths were recorded in country since the eruption of the contagion. Around 4,212 perished in Sindh among 13 of them died during past 24 hours.
Ten of them died in the hospital and three out of the hospital.
5,037 in Punjab had died with 11 deaths in past 24 hours. Nine of them died in the hospital and two out of the hospital on Saturday. 1,991 in KP where five of them died in hospital on Saturday, 485 in ICT among one of them in the hospital during past 24 hours, 199 in Balochistan among one of them died in the hospital during last 24 hours, 102 in GB and 281 in AJK succumbed to the deadly virus.
A total of 8,434,098 coronavirus tests have been conducted so far, while 631 hospitals are equipped with Covid-19 facilities. Some 2,125 coronavirus patients were admitted in hospitals across the country.
Separately, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Dr Sania Nishtar expressed her satisfaction over successful efforts of government to cope with pandemic and reaching out to the homes of 15 million labour class people affected by the pandemic.
In her visit to the provincial Election Commission office in Peshawar to submit her documents for forthcoming Senate elections, Dr Sania said that the situation created due to Covid-19 was extraordinary and had affected people all over the world, including Pakistan.
“We approached 15 million daily wagers and others in need through Ehsaas Kafalat Programme, delivered cash money to run their household affairs and feed their families.
Most of the laborers and daily wagers stuck far from their homes in other cities because of the closure of inter-cities transport,” she said.
“We are thankful to Almighty Allah and the team working under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan to access these people timely and addressing their problem through Ehsaas Kafalat Programme,” she added.
Under the umbrella of the Ehsaas Programme, Prime Minister Imran Khan formed a labour expert group at the international labour day last year to prepare recommendations for addressing income, health and social security issues of workers in the informal sector, she explained.
In light of those recommendations, the government has taken practical steps to bring daily wagers and laborers into the mainstream, she added. She said that the group had conducted a consultations to establish labour-friendly social protection institutions.
The economy of Pakistan is large and workers have limited access to labor welfare services, she maintained. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Labour Force Survey 2017-18, the informal sector accounted for 71.7 per cent of the employment in jobs outside the agriculture sector. This number rose to 75.6 per cent in rural areas whereas it fell to 68.1 per cent in urban areas.
“I am grateful to the experts of the group for their suggestions. With their support we have been able to extend financial support to daily wagers through the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme and to expand it according to the ground realities,” said Dr Nishtar.
The Labour Expert Group members included the Social Security and Poverty Reduction Division, Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, Planning Commission, all provincial labor departments, Pakistan Workers Federation, ILO and researchers, university professors, labor leaders and representatives of other relevant fields.
Dr Sania expressed her confidence that the efforts of the government would help free the poor from the vicious circle of poverty, as well as pave the way for them towards prosperity.
The special assistant said that a survey was being conducted in the country to identify the poor who deserve assistance and help, adding that now it was in completion stage.
She also lauded the role of teachers of the education department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Punjab from collecting the required data for the survey.
She said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking special interest in development of merged tribal districts to improve the living standard of the natives through providing modern facilities and financial assistance.
About the winter situation in the southern districts, North and South Waziristan, she said that people of these areas who migrated to other districts due to harsh weather would also be registered under Ehsaas Kafalat Programme.
Replying to a query, she said that the incumbent government was committed to fight against poverty and completed the work plan to achieve the target within the specified time.

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