- Allocating money not going to be enough
The federal Cabinet has taken a valuable first step by allocating $150 million in the first quarter of next year for the acquisition of the coronavirus vaccine, and taken the further step of prioritising the vaccination of frontline health workers and those over the age of 65. The move is all the more laudable considering that there has been no decision as yet, which of the several vaccines about to be launched will be acquired. There are two American vaccines and one British which have been showing promising results, but there have also been Russian and Chinese vaccines also being reported as offering protection. A US vaccine may be unsuitable, as it has to be transported at very low temperatures, meaning that not only will it be very expensive, but also unsafe to transport.
The government must be careful to make a sensible decision. After all, the decision will mean $150 million going to one company or the other. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan is supposed to oversee the process, but looking back at the recent drug prices controversy, it can be seen not to have the best of reputations for either honesty or competence. The government cannot simply assign it the task and then forget about it; but must make sure that there is no price gouging of the sort that occurred with covid-19 therapies and medicines rumored to have been useful. The Cabinet’s own cut in the price of injections of Remdesivir, a treatment for Cocid-19, shows this. The price of facemasks, which skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic, show that not only price gouging is possible, but unscrupulous elements are willing to practice scams of one kind or another.
Another element that will come is that of propaganda against the vaccine. Vaccines are not seen by all as beneficial, and the country’s bitter experience with the polio virus has shown, anti-vaccine elements are willing to use religion against vaccinators. There is as yet no indication of any effort to counter the propaganda that is almost certain to rise up. That has to be an essential element of any vaccination strategy.