Provinces free to import anti-coronavirus vaccine, says NCOC chief Asad Umar

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Karachi : National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) chief Asad Umar has asserted that provinces and private entities are allowed to import anti-coronavirus vaccines approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan (DRAP).

“From day 1, the NCOC has adopted the policy that the federal government shall not have the monopoly to import anti-coronavirus vaccines,” the federal minister told Shahzad Iqbal . “Provinces and private entities including hospitals have been allowed to import the vaccines that are approved by DRAP.”

Umar was responding to Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho seeking the federal government’s permission to directly negotiate with foreign governments and private companies for vaccine procurement.

“Once a vaccine has been approved by the regulatory authority, it can be imported by provinces as well as private hospitals,” he explained. “In fact, I would encourage not only Sindh but other provincial governments to import it as well.”

Procurement and distribution

The NCOC chief said the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has already been okayed by DRAP and China’s Sinopharm was also approved in principle by a technical committee. “We only need to decide under which name will Sinopharm vaccine be distributed. The verdict will be out by Tuesday.”

Umar said at the moment there are two anti-coronavirus vaccines authorised for emergency use while phase III clinical trials of the third vaccine by CanSino will be completed by the first week of February. “Once the results for the CanSino vaccine are out, and if they are positive, then that anti-dote too will be available in Pakistan.”

The federal minister said Pakistan had also signed up for the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility some eight months back and was expecting the first consignment in the first quarter of this year. “We have multiple sources for the anti-coronavirus vaccines slated for delivery in February-March. So the vaccines will be procured and rolled out in the first quarter of this year.”

He explained that healthcare workers and people aged 65 and above will be vaccinated in the first phase. “Initially, it was proposed that government officials be vaccinated in the first phase as well but we rejected that recommendation.”

“We are in the advance stages of a vaccine drive. Some 300,000 healthcare workers have been registered to be vaccinated. The healthcare workers who will be administrating the vaccine have also been trained.”

Umar said the Chinese government was facilitating Sinopharm vaccine doses for Pakistan. “We have provided them the number of healthcare workers and they will let us know about the first batch of vaccines by Tuesday.”