Pakistan confirmed two cases of coronavirus on 26th February 2020. A student in Karachi who had returned from Iran and another person in Islamabad, the Capital of Pakistan. On 15th June 2020 daily cases of coronavirus reached their peak, with 6,825.
In Asia, Pakistan currently stands at number eight, with corona confirmed cases, second to its neighbor, India. In May 2020 Pakistan’s provincial governments began national lockdowns in coordination with the federal government. On 13th June 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a “smart lockdown” strategy, which was implemented in certain hotspots, all over the country.
In early 2020 a global vaccine development began with an extraordinary collaboration in the multinational pharmaceutical industry. Tens of billions of dollars were provided by corporations, health organizations, and research groups to develop a vaccine that would cure Covid-19. The fast-growing infection rate of coronavirus globally during 2020 encouraged international alliance and government efforts to immediately establish resources to make various vaccines on an immediate basis.
In May 2020 the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR’s) National Institute of Virology approved and provided the virus strain for developing a fully indigenous Covid19 vaccine. While in June 2020, China approved the CanSino vaccine for limited utilization. Russia followed and announced the approval of the vaccine Sputnik V.
In the South Asian region, Pakistan and India are the two most populous and major economies. In the health sector, Pakistan has been in trade in Indian pharmaceutical products, purchasing of different vaccines at easy and affordable rates. The trade remained stable before Feb 14, 2019, when a suicide attack took place in Indian held Kashmir’s Pulwama area. India blamed Pakistan for the incident that killed 40 people, and almost brought Pak-India relations to the brink of war. Since two years the relations have remained unpleasant.
This tragic episode further escalated tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries, especially, at the line of control or the de facto border. Both countries control parts of the Kashmir region but claim it to its entirety. Following these tensions, Pakistan downgraded its diplomatic ties and suspended bilateral trade with India.
Meanwhile, as the Covid-19 pandemic engulfed the world, Pakistan went ahead and made agreements with China, that once the vaccine was ready, Pakistan would import it from its decades-old friend. While speaking to Eat News Saira Afzal Tarar, former Minister for National Health Services Regulation and Coordination said “as far as medical trade is concerned, there are many medicines that are manufactured cheaply in Pakistan and India”.
She said, “China is selling vaccines at cheaper rates to Pakistan and I have heard that China is giving a lot of vaccines to Pakistan as a grant”. Saira further said that “Pakistan should start a diplomatic policy with India”. She also feels that “as far as India is concerned, Pakistan is sensitive in this matter”.
But she also said “If Pakistan is getting vaccines of very good quality or price from India. The Ministry of Health should try to get the approval from the federal cabinet”, but added that “vaccines are not enough to start diplomatic relations, the two countries must respect each other”. She anticipated that “because of the ongoing Kashmir issue and the way everything is going it seems very difficult”.
Health experts maintain, Pakistan can produce its own corona vaccine, but the government has to provide funds for the research and it has to be a public-private partnership and effort. Meanwhile, Pakistan received its first batch of 500,000 vaccines as a gift from china early in February 2021. According to the national command and operations center, this batch will be used to inoculate the front-line workers.
Dr. Nausheen Hamid, Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination said, “when the production of vaccines started in the whole world 7-8 months from today, trials of vaccines began in different companies and at that time in Pakistan, a technical expert committee and national vaccine task force was assembled. They followed the production of almost 170 vaccines and the factors which were kept in mind were the safety, efficacy, and the availability of the vaccine and how fast can it be transported to Pakistan and its storage requirements, so these 6-7 criteria were keenly observed then finally 7-8 companies were shortlisted and the final negotiations started with these selected companies and we are still in touch with these companies and secondly we had signed for COVAX a long time ago and from that platform, we would get the free vaccine for 20% population and we are getting the vaccines through COVAX in the first quarter because of our preparation of the vaccine centers. Keeping in mind our storage capacity COVAX has promised to provide the vaccine to us in the first quarter. Almost 65 countries have started giving the vaccines and Pakistan is one of those 130 countries in which vaccines are not being provided so keeping all that in mind I think Pakistan has taken the decision time and the main thing is we can provide free vaccines to the maximum population.”
She added that “Prime Minister Imran Khan has given the approval of 150 million dollars and we have pre-booked the CanSinio bio vaccine, the one that went through trials and we will keep on purchasing it as per need from different companies”.
But Saira Afzal Tarar, the former Minister for National Health Services Regulation and Coordination believes that Pakistan should gather its own resources to focus on developing its own indigenous vaccines, so that in the future if there is another pandemic then it should not be dependent on other countries.
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