Vaccines availability & pricing: matter of life and death, not politics

Our politicians are neither dumb nor blind. And they are all keenly aware of what benefits them and what harms them. So, what is one to make of such news as a resolution in the Senate of Pakistan asking for free anti Covid vaccine to the entire population and reducing the price of vaccine being imported privately to be administered to those who are better endowed and can afford to pay for being vaccinated out of turn. Now, we all know that the government has already announced free vaccination for all citizens. Why then the resolution asking for the same? We also know that vaccines are not like aspirin that one can just buy off the shelf and pop in for a headache. We also know that vaccines are being produced in only a few countries all of whom are giving priority to their own citizens thus not leaving enough yet for non vaccine producing countries whose population runs into billions. In a situation like this, these vaccines are clearly in a seller dominant market with even relatively rich European countries complaining of being left out. So, how does it impact Pakistan? Our private sector importers are very small buyers in the international market where sellers (producers) would prefer bulk buyers of millions of doses who would also get a better price. Not so for our Pakistani importers who place orders for a maximum of a few hundred thousand doses. They are waitlisted and given higher prices. In short, they are at the mercy of the producers. Expecting a bargain price for these privately imported vaccines is thus a mirage which only our politiciaans can see. It is sad to see them play politics on an issue as sensitive as prevention against this rare pandemic. Pakistan has a population of 220 million people and it can achieve herd immunity against the pandemic if it vaccinated 70% of its population. That means vaccinating nearly 160 million people. Bloomberg estimates that at current rate of vaccination, Pakistan will reach that goal in ten years. Meanwhile, more and more people will continue to die of the virus. What can be done? The federal government should continue to explore every possible source including our friend China to buy or borrow vaccines for the maximum number and allow the private sector to import whatever quantity it can for those who can afford to pay and get vaccinated. Fixing an unreasonable price will not help. Hundreds of thousands have already registered themselves for the privately imported vaccines and are eagerly awaiting a call which clearly shows they can afford to pay that price to keep themselves safe. If they can, why not let them do so which will make those number of doses available for those who cannot afford to pay. Simple common sense which our politicians are surely endowed with but are hell-bent on politicising everything including matters of life and death for the masses. And lastly, prevention. Our political and religious leaders must come forward and make fervent and frequent appeal to the people to take every precaution including wearing of masks and maintaining social distance. It is not just the government’s and the media’s responsibility to do so. When did we last hear or see Maryam, Bilawal, Maulana, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif do that? If anything, their rallies in the midst of the pandemic, only added to the spread of the virus. Let the government, including the provincial ones, for health is now a provincial subject, the opposition, the ulema, the civil society and the media all lend their shoulders to a national effort to meet the huge challenge of containing the pandemic and preventing loss of lives. Or will this too be a mirage?