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I got my first dose of COVID vaccine on March 13, thanks to the government drive for free vaccination of citizens over 60 years of age. I got vaccinated at Expo center Lahore and the experience was highly satisfying. The whole process was done in under thirty minutes. Second dose would be due after 21 days.
On April 01, I sent message to 1166 and got a prompt reply that I had been registered and was issued a pin code. However, the vaccination center had been changed to the other end of the city, near Minar e Pakistan. I logged on to NADRA website and requested center change to Expo center. It was promptly acceded to. Since I had not been given a date yet, I thought I would receive it in couple of days, as 21 days would complete on April 02. When I woke up on April 02, I saw a message from 1166 that I should go to Expo Center on April 02 and get vaccinated. It did not explicitly say it was second dose. Anyway, I reached Expo Center at 8.55am, and presented myself, the message and the CNIC at a counter for second dose. First and second dose counters were separated. The girl at the counter was perplexed at the message as it did not mention second dose but filled the form anyway. I got inside the vaccination area and got the shot in the next two minutes. After fifteen minutes of recommended rest, I came out. The whole process again took under thirty minutes. There are certainly some advantages being a senior citizen.
The vaccine scenario in Lahore at least, appears to have changed greatly. Few weeks back, majority of people were ambivalent at best, and averse in general to the idea of getting vaccine. Certain conspiracy theories had been circulating constantly. Internationally, it was the concept of injecting nano chips to enslave the population, while in Pakistan, the impotence theory had largely caught up.
The third wave of COVID resurgence and the vaccination drive coincided in time. Many new cases were reported, and death toll rose. This led to quick change in thinking and people queued up for getting vaccine, forgetting about other theories. True, that life is dearer than theories.
As happens normally, the availability of Chinese and Russian vaccines remains shrouded in confusion, misinformation and mishandling.
DRAP (Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan) announced emergency registration of three Chinese vaccines, Sinopharm, Sinovac, Cansino, and one Russian vaccine, Sputnik V. The selling price for all brands was fixed at the same level. Good job.
Next, the information came that importers were not happy with the DRAP fixed price and had refused to import. In a rare show of submission, DRAP reviewed the price up.
The real confusion started now. All of a sudden, majority wanted to get vaccine first, of course on payment. No one knew how many doses would be available and when. The panic mode therefore set in quickly.
The providers were no help at all. They did not give any clue about numbers. Chughtai’s Lab opened and quickly shut online registration saying the available number of doses had been booked. Since the registration was online, it was less of a hassle. Shaukat Khanum Hospital took a different route. They announced that vaccination would be done from the evening till early morning, and that people should queue up in person, get registered and get vaccinated. No idea about number of doses was provided. Last night, many people stood in queue for several hours, got registered and came to know just after midnight that the vaccine supply had finished and that they would have to come again and start all over again. This is weird, to say the least. Another private hospital also announced vaccination and ran out quickly.
Presently, most people, particularly, younger people who can pay roughly pay 6500 rupees per person per dose are very eager to get vaccine. They are getting frustrated at its non-availability.
Many countries in the world are giving free vaccine to the entire population. Our government also started off with free vaccination for over 60 and then over 50. Similar service should be extended to the entire population. We believe that it would have cascaded down in time to come, but that time appears to be quite long, hence the panic.
Another question is that is it right for the government to force people to get vaccinated at cost, in private sector? Right or wrong besides, the money involved in this project would run into billions. If one million people pay even 6,000 per dose, 12,000 for one course of two doses, the money calculates to 13,000,000,000 (13 billion). Our population above 18 would be safely over 150 million. This amount goes up to 1,950 billion rupees. Mind boggling, isn’t it?
Wherever huge amounts of money are involved, foul play and corruption are bound to enter. It would be similar in case of vaccine. There may be fake vaccines and vaccination centers, there may be coercion to pay more, there may be bribery to get vaccine first, and there may be behind-the-door deals to get permission to import more. It is also quite likely that the government drive would slow down to accommodate private importers. The solution to these issues is that the government coordinates with private importers, but do not allow them to charge the patients. Instead, the government should pay for everyone.
Full government sponsorship of COVID vaccine drive does not appear likely, nor does government have the capability and strength to monitor fair handling of vaccine drive. It is likely that the people spared by corona virus may not be spared by the COVID vaccine providers.
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