While a cost estimate for the Covid-19 vaccine is yet to be available, Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved a $100mn 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 firm has received 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 have shown above 90% efficacy in preventing the disease among those who have not contracted the virus, they are in the process of compiling the data.
“Once the data is completed they will submit it to the US Food and Drugs Authority and with the corresponding regulatory authority in the European Union.
“It may take another four weeks,” said Dr Asad Hafeez, vice chancellor of the Health Services Academy (HSA) and chairman of the National Vaccine Committee.
“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, Hafeez said the government was very close to finalising the process for procurement of the vaccine.
However, he added, it would take a few more months to get the vaccine.
A health ministry official requesting anonymity said 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 jab will be provided at affordable rates, we should not expect it to be available for almost free,” he said.
Hafeez 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 the allocation of funds was a positive development, as Covid-19 was in the process of becoming preventable disease through vaccination.
However, Akram added that the government should ensure that the vaccine is proven to be effective for the 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.
Akram was of the opinion that healthcare workers, senior citizens, diabetic and heart patients should get the vaccine on a priority basis.
Meanwhile, parliamentary secretary on NHS, Dr Nausheen Hamid, said a number of companies claimed to have been preparing vaccines 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.
Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has allocated $20.3mn for technical assistance to its members to access the vaccine and establish systems to enable equitable and efficient distribution of vaccine.
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