COVID-19: Pakistan grapples with the vaccine question

To get vaccinated or not get vaccinated? That seems to be the question in Pakistan today. For a country that has just experienced the worst day of Covid effect in the last 9 months — over a hundred dead and more five thousand positive infections — it is counter intuitive to pose the query even for rhetorical purposes. Of course yes!

Vaccination is the only defence available against the onslaught of a pandemic that now has entered homes and bazaars, and even the most strict implementation of social distancing — not that it is happening — will not roll it back.

But the Covid-dominated life is not delineated in black and white in Pakistan, and the question of vaccination is particularly vexatious. To begin with, there isn’t enough of the vaccine available. The government has created many walk-in facilities for vaccinations but that is essentially for the older population, above 60 that is. The registration process is on for those in the lower age bracket but here is no date given to them as to when their turn will come.

Post-Eid vaccines for all?

In the official telling, the statement is that everybody will be vaccinated after Eid, which like a month away. But global assessments based on the law of averages, supply side bottlenecks, availability of resources, and the prevailing unequalness of access to vaccines between the rich and the poor estimate that at this rate a country like Pakistan may take another two years to provide substantial number of its population the umbrella of the antidote to Covid.

And that by the way is a positive projection. A more cynical time frame is four years. This means for a considerable length of time the country is likely to stay in the mode of a grim battle of nerves with Covid whose up and down curves will keep rocking its plans of collective health protection and even economic recovery.

The tragedies of preventable deaths occurring will continue to grate on the national psyche like that of a poetess who having lost her mother got admitted to the hospital along with her brother and died as her queries on social media about what to do with her disease and where to go to for oxygenation remained unanswered. She was 34. She and her brother contracted the virus while looking after their ailing mother.

While there is much uproar and wailing on the tragic episode, the fact remains unchanged that in the absence of adequate health facilities and slow unfolding of the vaccination cover Pakistan’s population would remain vulnerable to such shattering experiences.

Vaccine rumors

The other complexity of vaccination is unrelated to government response and grows out of deep and unfounded suspicions about the side-effects of vaccines. Social media and chat groups are the most generous suppliers of confusion in this regard. Here everyone has an opinion to offer as to how the vaccines can or cannot affect an individual’s health.

Of particular concern are the safety standards that have to be adhered to make vaccines do the trick of protection against the virus. The government has authorised a certain category of hospitals to administer the vaccines but the supervisions is not always tight and all sorts of “damaging side-effects” are getting reported left right and Centre.

There isn’t enough information available either from official quarters or from professional experts to allay these fears and dampen propaganda. As a result, there is endless chatter about whether older lives will be saved or jeopardised by administering vaccines.

Some of the more ingenious minds have even invented categories of “strong” and “mild” vaccines depending on their alleged “impact on weak bodies.” This is not science. This is voodoo talk and has no roots in large-scale proof driven medical evidence.

However, the problem is that even odd cases of clotting or countries banning certain categories of vaccines across the world are used as resounding endorsement of the fantastic theories that are bandied about all the time.

Nationwide vaccination drive

Be that as it may, it is certain that there is a general social consensus that vaccines are a good thing; however, just as certain, a significant minority will continue to hug unfounded fears hampering a nationwide vaccination drive if and when such a drive becomes possible.

For now, however, Pakistan has to deal with the continuous rise in infections and the prospects of the situation getting worse in the coming weeks as the public throngs the bazaars for groceries and special arrangements for the Holy Month of Ramadan.

This will be followed by Eid shopping and the business community is likely to defy all calls for restraint or limitation on doing their business since this is the time for them to rake it in big. All said, the fight against Corona in Pakistan remains roughly what it was last year -- tough, uncertain and without the cover of vaccine.

Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain12



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