Like many countries around the world, Pakistan is strategizing how to most efficiently get a hold of enough doses of the vaccine against COVID-19. Faisal Sultan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special adviser on national health services, spoke to Radio Mashaal about the country’s plans to vaccinate a majority of its estimated 220 million population.
Radio Mashaal: How many vaccines does Pakistan hope to procure?
Faisal Sultan: Our intention is to have enough vaccines available in the country over the next year or so to allow coverage of about two-thirds or 70 percent of the eligible population. That is people over the age of 18. This is the intended number, but when practically implemented this may be lower.
Radio Mashaal: Is the vaccine coming only from China, or are you looking at other sources?
Sultan: We’ll be getting it from multiple sources simply because we have a large population and we will have to depend on several sources of vaccines. They won’t necessarily be just Chinese but are possible from other countries, too; for example, when we get vaccines from the Covax facility, that will be AstraZeneca.
Radio Mashaal: How much is the Pakistani government budgeting for the allocation of vaccines?
Sultan: The current budget is $150 million, which can be increased as and when required.
Radio Mashaal: Who’s next in line for the vaccine after healthcare workers?
Sultan: After healthcare workers and senior citizens, we will continue to go down the list using age as the primary marker of risk, but also stratifying [the remaining eligible people] somewhat by the prevalence of the disease [in their local communities and age groups].
Radio Mashaal: How exactly does the government plan to go about vaccinating a population of about 220 million people?
Sultan: The government plan to vaccinate a majority of the population is based on using the [current] expanded program for immunization and in its cold chain as well as using developed software to track and follow up on people who have received the vaccine. The vaccine will be deployed and administered by the provincial health departments.
Radio Mashaal: Will people have to pay to receive the vaccine, or will it be provided for free?
Sultan: Yes, most of the vaccine deployment will be free-of-charge.
Radio Mashaal: What is the private sector’s involvement in vaccine procurement?
Sultan: Most of the vaccines will be procured via the government system. We will allow the private sector to import vaccines in addition to that.
Radio Mashaal: How does the government plan to ensure transparency in the process of obtaining and distributing the vaccine?
Sultan: The methodology to ensure that distribution is fair, transparent, and equitable is based on documentation of administration of vaccines through the national immunization dashboard [a database] and to ensure that the vaccine goes to the right people. And given a country as large as ours, this does require a fair bit of administrative oversight and enforcement and care by the provinces where this would be administered.