As COVID-19 vaccines are unavailable to most of the population in Pakistan due to private sales and higher prices, leading critics believe that the country is making inoculations only for the wealthy.
Two doses of the Sputnik V vaccine cost as high as USD 80, while the monthly income of an average worker in Pakistan is about USD 110. Moreover, tight supplies have created hurdles for vaccine sales in Pakistan, making them available for only a fraction of the country's population, reported The New York Times."The Pakistani example is a microcosm of what has gone wrong with the global response -- where wealth alone has primarily shaped who gets access. Ending the pandemic will require the global community to do much more than just that," Zain Rizvi, an expert on medicine access at Public Citizen, an advocacy group in Washington.
Pakistan says that the private programme could make free shots available to people of low incomes and many people prefer to get inoculated at a private hospital because they are widely believed to be comparatively better organised than overwhelmed government facilities.
The low rate of COVID-19 testing suggests that many more infections in Pakistan remain undetected. To make matters severe, the government's vaccination campaign has been slow. It has started giving doses to people over 40 years old this month. Younger people may need to wait several months.
According to The New York Times, private sales set off a fiery debate in a country where the economy has stalled from the pandemic and from longstanding issues like a lack of foreign investment and heavy government debt.
Critics have maintained that such a scenario will deepen the divisions within the country, where a large section of the society lives under the poverty line.
"The government did not think about the suffering of the poor while allowing the importers to sell the vaccine... Such discriminatory policies will increase the sense of deprivation among the poor young people, especially those with weak immune systems," said Dr Mirza Ali Azhar, a leader of the Pakistan Medical Association.Amid the increasing demand for vaccines, Pakistani hospitals cannot find vaccines to buy and the government is locked in a dispute with private importers over prices.
Private hospitals in Islamabad and Lahore faced a similar rush of people and ran short within days. Hospitals in the major cities have now stopped taking walk-ins, and online registration has also been put on hold, reported The New York Times.
As COVID-19 cases are rapidly surging in Pakistan, the cumulative count of infections in the country crossed 900,000 mark on Sunday.
Citing National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) data, Geo News reported that at least 74 more people have succumbed to coronavirus in Pakistan, taking the nationwide COVID-19 death toll to 20,251, while over 3,084 new infections have been reported, pushing the tally to 900,552.