COVID-19: Pakistanis forced to opt for expensive jabs from private markets amid slow govt vaccination drive

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Representative image
Representative image

Islamabad [Pakistan], April 13 (ANI): The Pakistani government is facing double trouble as hospital beds are filling up amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the country and the vaccination program is progressing at a slow rate due to delayed deliveries and limited supplies.

Pakistan, which began its vaccination drive against COVID-19 in February, has failed to smoothly run the exercise as only one million people have been vaccinated so far. A huge percentage of the country's 238 million residents are still left waiting for the vaccine, according to official figures.

The country has so far reported 7,30,000 COVID-19 cases and 15,619 related deaths.

The government has received 2.56 million doses of vaccines, all from China, according to local reports citing the health ministry, as per CNN.

Pakistan has only approved a handful of vaccines for emergency use, including three Chinese vaccines, Russia's Sputnik V, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. So far, it has largely relied on donations from other countries -- chiefly China, which has provided more than a million doses of Sinopharm.

Pakistan is still awaiting more than 17 million doses of vaccines allocated by COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative with discounted or free doses for lower-income countries.

Last month, Pakistan became one of the few countries to allow the private sector to import and sell vaccines.

Thousands of Pakistanis rushed to COVID-19 vaccination sites to get inoculated in the first round of commercial sales of Sputnik V vaccines.

Though the vaccine is available for all, it is expensive. The Sputnik vaccine currently costs 12,000 Pakistani rupees ($80) for two doses, according to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), CNN reported.

That's four times the international market price, which is less than USD 20 for two doses, according to the vaccine developers. And it's about 30 per cent of an average household's monthly income, at $273.2 (41,545 rupees), according to the most recent available data by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

"The selling of this vaccine is just unethical and too bad for the community," said Dr. Tipu Sultan, former head of the Pakistan Medical Association. "Only a few people who are moneyed are going to buy it. The bulk of the population cannot afford it."

But the process of getting a privately sold shot has numerous complications, even for those who can afford it.

"I'm super frustrated because I have to travel for work, and I'm unable to get my vaccine," said Maha Mussadaq, a content lead at Foodpanda Thailand, who has been stranded in Islamabad. She tried all week to sign up for the vaccine, but has not been able to confirm a time slot, she said. She went online to register, and was told she would receive a phone call with more details, but was given no indication of when it might come.

"There's no system in place, and there's no definition of a timeline," she said. All of her travel plans for work are dependent on whether she can get the first dose, but with news of the vaccine selling out, she is quickly losing hope of that happening.

Even those who have received the first shot are unsure whether they would be getting the second and final shot or not.

"I'm afraid there's no guarantee that we'll get the second dose, what if supplies run out?" said Anushka Jatoi. "There's a lot of uncertainty." (ANI)