Pakistan vaccine-1-1623858856261
Basanti, 71, reacts as she receives a dose of a vaccine in Karachi. Image Credit: REUTERS

Islamabad: Amid the growing concerns of vaccine shortage in major cities of Pakistan, the country’s health chief has assured of the smooth rollout of vaccines after June 20.

“This is a temporary shortage and the situation is expected to improve after June 20 with the availability of more vaccine doses” Dr Faisal Sultan, adviser to the prime minister on health affairs, said on Wednesday.

There are “more than 2,000 vaccination centres in the country” and the number of visitors varies at each clinic, which can lead to “shortage of vaccines at busy vaccine centres” where the demand is high, Dr Sultan said. The health officials were in communication with the provincial and local authorities to fix the vaccine shortage with swift redistribution.

The government is also working on ensuring the supply of additional doses, he said, adding that the situation would improve with the arrival of more doses of vaccines in June. Dr Sultan said that many countries are facing similar pressure due to the global vaccine shortage.

The country has so far received 14.5 million doses of Sinopharm (6.7m doses), Sinovac (5.5m), AstraZeneca (1.24m), CanSino (1m) and Pfizer (0.1m).

$1 billion for jab procurement

The government has allocated $1 billion for vaccine procurement as Pakistan aims to immunise 70 million vaccine eligible people by the end of 2021.

Vaccine shortage reported

Nearly a month after Pakistan’s COVID-19 immunization drive picked up speed, the vaccine shortage was reported at mass vaccination centres in populated cities of Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, raising fears that the country has exhausted its vaccine reserves.

“Pakistan has administered a total of 12 million vaccine doses but still has over 2 million COVID-19 doses in its inventory”, clarified Dr Sultan, calling for calm and assuring vaccine availability in the coming days.

Meanwhile, provincial health officials refuted media reports that Lahore’s biggest vaccination clinic at Expo Centre was running short of supplies. “There is no vaccine shortage. The province received 1.6 million shots recently and Lahore city has nearly 25,000 doses” said Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid. Over 240,000 people are being vaccinated daily across the province, she added.

Demand for Pfizer increasing

Pakistan has only received 100,00 doses of Pfizer via the COVAX facility but the demand for the vaccine is increasing each day. Pakistani expats staged a protest in Islamabad this week outside Islamabad’s F-9 Park mass vaccination centre, demanding the availability of Pfizer vaccines. Two factors driving the demand for Pfizer are: blood clot fears associated with AstraZeneca and the perception that the Pfizer vaccine is better.

However, the health authorities said that the country has a limited quantity of Pfizer doses which was equally distributed among all provinces and regions. “We have only 100,000 doses of Pfizer which can be administered to only 50,000 people” as it is a double-dose vaccine, said the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) spokesperson, Sajid Shah. The government has reserved Pfizer doses for people with low immunity only and travellers are encouraged to get AstraZeneca shots as Chinese vaccines are not accepted globally despite WHO approving China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Pakistan hopes to receive more Pfizer doses after the US administration announced agreement with Pfizer to buy 500 million doses to distribute to nearly 100 countries.