Pakistan to begin vaccination of senior citizens from March 10

Islamabad: Pakistan will begin the second phase of a nationwide coronavirus vaccination drive from March 10 to inoculate all above 60, health officials said.

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The senior most citizens will be the first ones to receive the doses of COVID-19 vaccine, special assistant to prime minister on health Dr Faisal Sultan said. The “vaccinations will be done in reverse order by age which means the oldest person who has registered will be vaccinated first” according to Minister Asad Umar who is spearheading the country’s fight against the pandemic.

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The health department started registration of those 60 years and above for the immunisation programme from February 15 asking the citizens to send a text message at 1166 or enter their details at the national immunisation management system (NIMS) website. Once registered, the eligible citizens will be informed about the vaccine centre and the date of vaccination through a text message, officials said.

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Education campaigns key to convince people

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Only a few citizens have so far reported receiving a text message for vaccination and those who did were uncertain about the vaccine type. “It’s our right to know which vaccines will be administered and how safe it is for our parents,” said Salma Khan, an Islamabad-based educator, talking to Gulf News. Vaccination campaigns in countries like Pakistan with a massive population of 220 million and low literacy ratio can only be successful if backed with “a robust public education campaign to inform people about the efficacy and safety of the coronavirus vaccine and to convince them to take the jab” she suggested.

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Pakistan is set to begin the vaccination drive for the elderly at a time when the public response has been described as “slow and discouraging”. Only 2.25 per cent or 180,000 of an estimated 8 million senior citizens in Pakistan registered until last week. Public education campaigns are critical at the time of vaccine rollout to overcome vaccine hesitancy and suspicion that has even deterred some health workers to get vaccinated, experts said. Dr Faisal Sultan earlier urged the healthcare workers and those eligible to get vaccinated to protect themselves as well as their loved ones.

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Update on vaccines

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Pakistan launched its COVID-19 vaccine drive in early February beginning with the healthcare workers in the first phase after receiving 500,000 Sinopharm doses from China. At least 25 per cent of the 400,000 registered doctors, nurses and paramedical staff registered have been vaccinated.

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The country is beginning the second phase of the vaccination campaign as it expects to receive another half a million doses from China. In January, the government announced it had secured 17 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the UN-led COVAX initiative. At least 7 million of those doses were expected to arrive by April, however, the delivery of vaccines has been delayed.

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Pakistan’s drug regulator has approved the emergency use of China’s Sinopharm and CanSino, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines.

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