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Pakistan sets aside $100m to buy Covid vaccine

Pakistan sets aside $100m to buy Covid vaccine

ISLAMABAD: While an estimated cost of the Covid-19 vaccine is not yet available, Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved a $100 million allocation and allowed advance payment for procurement of the vaccine at the earliest.

Moreover, it has been decided that different segments of society, such as senior citizens, health practitioners and people suffering from chronic diseases, will be prioritised for the vaccine that will be available in limited numbers during the ongoing winter season.

“As we speak no company has announced the cost of vaccine. Moreover, not a single company has got the approval to sell the vaccine as the clinical trial data is limited. Although international firms — Pfizer and BioNTech — have announced that the phase-III clinical trials of their vaccines had shown 90 per cent efficacy in preventing the disease among those who have not contracted the virus, but they are in the process of compiling the data. Once data will be completed they will submit it with United States Food and Drugs Authority and with similar regulatory authority of the European Union. It may take another four weeks,” said Vice Chancellor of the Health Services Academy (HSA) and Chairman of the National Vaccine Committee Dr Asad Hafeez while talking to Dawn.

“Companies will get the emergency use or transit permission for use of vaccine and after one year they may get full approval to sell the vaccine. However, there will be no difference for the general public if the vaccine is sold under transit or full permission. The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has been interacting and negotiating with half a dozen multinational companies to get the vaccine at the earliest,” he said.

In reply to a question, Dr Hafeez said the government was very close to finalise the process for the procurement of the vaccine. However, he said, it would take a few more months to get the vaccine.

Read: Is Pfizer’s vaccine the answer to Pakistan’s Covid-19 problem?

An official of the health ministry requesting anonymity said that it was not possible to estimate the cost of the vaccine at the moment, as there were no mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines in the world. “We should [also] not forget that commercial companies are manufacturing the vaccine and, despite their announcement that the vaccine will be provided at affordable rates, we should not expect that it will be available for almost free,” he said.

He explained that mRNA was a new type of vaccine for providing acquired immunity by inserting it into cells to re-programme them into producing antibodies.

Vice Chancellor of the University of Health Sciences Prof Dr Javed Akram said that allocation of funds was a positive development, as Covid-19 was in the process of becoming preventable disease through vaccination.

However, he said, the government should ensure that the vaccine would be proven to be effective for Pakistani population. “There is a possibility that a vaccine would be more effective for people of one region and less in other areas. We are also conducting phase-III trial and over 3,000 volunteers have been vaccinated,” he said.

Dr Akram was of the opinion that healthcare workers, senior citizens, diabetic and heart patients should get vaccine on priority.

Meanwhile, Parliamentary Secretary on NHS Dr Nausheen Hamid said a number of companies claimed to have been preparing vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

“We have shortlisted two companies and soon advance payment will be deposited. Moreover, healthcare workers and senior citizens will be prioritised for the vaccine,” she disclosed.

ADB’s assistance

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has allocated $20.3 million for technical assistance to its developing members access the vaccine for Covid-19 and establish systems to enable equitable and efficient distribution of vaccine.

“Asia and the Pacific has largely done well to limit the spread of Covid-19. Ensuring access to a safe, effective, and equitable vaccine is the next frontier in the fight against this virus,” said Director General of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Woochong Um. “With these additional grant resources, ADB can immediately support our developing members to undertake urgent actions, including vaccine system assessments and vaccine deployment strategies, to ensure vaccines are delivered efficiently and fairly,” he said.

WHO’s cervical cancer strategy

Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday launched Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, outlines having three key steps i.e. vaccination, screening and treatment. Successful implementation of all three could reduce more than 40pc of new cases of the disease and five million related deaths by 2050.

Development represents a historic milestone as it marks the first time that 194 countries commit to eliminating cancer — following adoption of a resolution at this year’s World Health Assembly. Meeting the targets such as 90pc of girls fully vaccinated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine by 15 years of age, 70pc of women screened using a high-performance test by 35 years of age and again by 45 years and 90pc of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment by 2030, says a WHO statement.

“Eliminating any cancer would have once seemed an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. It is also curable if detected early and adequately treated. Yet it is the fourth most common cancer among women globally.

Amin Ahmed from Islamabad also contributed to this story.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2020

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