Laiba Zainab, a 25-year-old journalist from the central city of Multan, Pakistan, was eager to receive an injection of China’s Sinopharm COVID vaccine on June 10, after spending five months waiting for her age group to be called.
Pakistan’s vaccination campaign got off to a chaotic start earlier this year, plagued by shortages of vaccine supply and hesitation. In February, only the elderly could be vaccinated. But last month, spurred by an influx of Chinese vaccines, Pakistan launched a mass vaccination campaign for all adults.
The process is organized by an online registration system. When a dose is available, recipients receive an SMS code and go to one of 2,000 mass vaccination centers across the country.
“When the government announced the registration to vaccinate citizens aged 18 or over, I sent messages every day, and sometimes two or three times a day,” Zainab said, adding that he told him. took several weeks to get her appointment.
As South Asia has seen an increase in the number of cases in the previous months, Zainab said she was alarmed and getting the vaccine was a priority.
“The vaccination process went smoothly and lasted 20 minutes,” she said. “I urge people to get vaccinated and share my experience on social media to break myths about vaccination,” she added.
Pakistan steps up vaccination campaign
Zainab is now among nearly 13 million people, out of a total population of 230 million, who have received a vaccine. Her second dose is scheduled for early July.
“We have seen a steady increase in daily vaccination rates, crossing 400,000 doses per day. We are hoping for a further increase to over half a million doses per day,” Pakistani Minister of Health told DW, Faisal Sultan.
Fareeha Irfan, a public health doctor and expert in health policy and management, told DW that the Pakistani government has made it easier to access vaccinations and the public has responded well.
“The number of cases has dropped dramatically,” Irfan said.
“Now the government is offering a drive-thru vaccination center that will make it easier for the public to get vaccinated,” she added.
The number of COVID cases in Pakistan has dropped significantly in recent weeks. As of Monday, 660 new cases were recorded and 25 deaths were reported, the lowest number in eight months.
The government’s goal is to vaccinate 70 million people by the end of 2021, according to the Minister of Health.
Vaccine shortages persist
However, since last week Pakistan has experienced a temporary shortage of doses, and there are concerns that the second injections may be delayed.
Zainab hopes to receive her second dose in July, but fears delays due to lack of supplies.
Dozens of people in the eastern city of Lahore protested against a shortage of doses of AstraZeneca on Monday.
“Purchasing is competitive and needs funding, but with a struggling economy, it’s hard to buy an abundance of doses,” said public health expert Irfan.
“Western countries had already purchased huge supplies and placed advance orders impacting supplies for least developed countries,” she added.
Qamar Cheema, an Islamabad-based public health analyst, told DW that “the government has made sufficient arrangements but is failing to timely purchase the vaccine and supplies.”
“There is also the problem of lack of confidence in the Chinese health system and vaccines. The government has to buy all kinds of vaccines because Europeans and Westerners stress that only those who are vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be allowed to travel to Europe. “
Health Minister Sultan said Pakistan “is constantly working to obtain more vaccines from several sources, including China, the United States, Europe and Russia.”
“We have made an agreement to purchase 13 million doses of Pfizer vaccine. We have also started partial production in Pakistan of a Chinese vaccine,” he added.
Debunking vaccine myths in Pakistan
Pakistan has a history of anti-vaccine propaganda and polio vaccination myths, which have been wrongly associated with fertility issues and Western conspiracies.
The same obstacles are now seen among Pakistanis who mistakenly believe that the COVID vaccine will negatively impact their health and allow surveillance from Western countries.
“The purpose of sharing my experiences and photographs on social media was to raise awareness and motivate people for vaccination,” Zainab said.
Health Minister Sultan said the government is debunking vaccine myths “through extensive engagement and communication through various channels.”
“We will also use encouragement through incentives and by reaching out to various sectors like education, chambers of commerce, commercial and government employers to increase reach. We are also increasing access by taking vaccines as close as possible. possible people, ”he added.
However, many health experts say Pakistani authorities could have done a better job at the start of the pandemic.
“We haven’t educated people well about COVID. People haven’t taken it seriously and they need to take preventative action to combat the virus,” Irfan said.
“The majority of people did not take the virus seriously unless they and their families were infected. We should engage community leaders to raise awareness,” she added.