Procurement of COVID-19 vaccines will take some time: Asad Umar

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The head of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) Asad Umar has said that the completion of the procurement process of COVID-19 vaccines will take some time as the federal government initiated talks with China.

Asad Umar, while addressing a press conference today, said that efforts are underway for getting the COVID-19 vaccines and talks with China have commenced. Vaccines for frontline workers will arrive soon in Pakistan, he said.

However, the completion of the procurement process of COVID-19 vaccines will take some time, said Asad Umar. He once again appealed the nationals to continue taking precautions against the virus.

The Minister for Planning and Development said that the federal government had been recommended to implement strict curbs amid the recent situation of the pandemic instead of imposing smart lockdown.

A survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) revealed that around 55.5 million workforce exists in the country including a large number of women. During the countrywide lockdown, business activities had been halted due to which more than 20 million people lost their livelihood, he said.

The NCOC said the government will have to make decisions in view of health and employment following the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The pilot project, testing and quarantine system had been initiated on April 10 which was made fully operational from April 24.

The curbs had been gradually lifted following the decisions taken within a few of weeks besides reopening of business sectors of the country. The country’s workforce had returned to their employment in October, whereas, the construction sector witnessed hike amid coronavirus.

Millions of people lost their jobs in neighbouring India, as well as millions of people in developed countries. Even the chief advisor of Obama had once asked the US government to adopt decisions like Pakistan to reduce the financial losses, said Umar.

Umar said that PM Imran Khan was extremely worried about the livelihoods of those people selling goods on hand carts or daily wagers. The government had reopened its industries and construction sector during its first phase, he detailed.

The closure of the construction sector affected the income of people up 80 per cent, whereas, 70 per cent people are associated with the transport sector.

During the survey, it emerged that no one was dying of hunger but 47 per cent people were forced to spend savings and 30 per cent nationals acquired loans from their relatives or friends to go through the lockdown period.

Asad Umar said that the difficulties would have increased if the government failed to take timely decisions. The decisions were hailed by all including Bill Gates, UN chief and FWO.

He said that Britain and some other countries are witnessing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases during its second wave which they did not record last year.

In view of an increase in the number of Covid cases in November last year, the federal government had decided to impose lockdown in coronavirus hotspot areas. At that time, a large number of COVID-19 patients were heading towards hospitals from the first week of December, whereas, those patients shifted to oxygen during the second of December last year.

Umar detailed that 313 patients had been put on ventilators in the second week of December, however, the cases were started decreasing by the end of December’s second week.

He appealed the nationals to keep following standard operating procedures (SOPs) against novel coronavirus as the arrival of vaccines will take some time. He said that Covid vaccines for frontline workers will soon arrive in Pakistan.

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DRAP board meets today to mull over approval of Chinese vaccine

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A meeting of the registration board of the Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan (DRAP) has been summoned today with approval of a vaccine from China likely on the agenda.

The DRAP registration board will remain in session until January 14, according to the sources at the Ministry of National Health.

The DRAP will likely to approve registration of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in this session, sources said.

Sinopharm had recently sought permission from Pakistan for emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

The Chinese vaccine firm has submitted the data of the clinical trials of its vaccine to the DRAP.

The registration board will likely to approve the vaccine fore emergency use in Pakistan, sources said.

The approval from the Drug Regulatory Authority will allow the use of the Chinese vaccine in Pakistan, sources said.

According to the health ministry sources, Sinopharm’s registration documents were incomplete with technical flaws and the Chinese firm has been asked to submit required documents.

Pakistan has announced to buy 1.2 million doses of the corona vaccine from Sinopharm, a state-run Chinese firm, which is developing two COVID-19 vaccines.

Pakistan is presently in the midst of another spate of infections, as the death toll has past 10,000 mark and overall cases in the country have crossed 500,000 figure.

Pakistan is also running phase III clinical trials of another Chinese vaccine from CanSino Biologics’, led by the National Institute of Health.

According to a report, quoting an official, five companies have applied for a license to distribute the vaccine in Pakistan once approved.

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5 days nationwide polio vaccination to begin from today

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A five-day polio immunisation drive has commenced across Pakistan today during which over 40.1 million children will be administered oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) to prevent children from the crippling disease on Friday.

The first anti-polio drive of 2021 has begun across the country which would be continued till January 15 including three days of vaccination and two days of catch-up activities in high-risk areas.

During the ongoing campaign, 20.1 million children under five years age will be vaccinated in Punjab, 9.2 million in Sindh, 7.1 million in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 2.5 million in Balochistan, 7 million in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and 240,000 in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

Moreover, the children aged between 6 months to five years will also be administered Vitamin A drops in order to boost their immunity of the organism.

285,000 health workers are taking part in the national polio immunisation campaign which includes 28,000 area in-charges and 8,700 UCMOs.

222,000 mobile members, 10,500 fixed and 12,000 transit team members will be deployed to run the campaign, moreover, mobile polio vaccination teams will visit far-flung areas of Balochistan and KP provinces.

Prior to launching anti-polio drive this year, the health workers had been given special training regarding standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent themselves from contracting novel coronavirus.


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Malaysia PM to announce new COVID-19 measures as deaths hit daily record

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Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will announce new measures next week to curb a surge in coronavirus cases, a senior minister said on Friday, as the country reported its highest daily number of deaths linked to the epidemic.

The Southeast Asian nation has seen a spike in infections since September, with the number of daily reported cases climbing to record highs on two days this week.

Friday’s death toll of 16 took total COVID-19 fatalities to 537. The health ministry also reported 2,643 new infections, raising the total number of cases to 131,108.

The government has said it was considering imposing targeted lockdowns in some areas, though businesses warned that wider restrictions could further batter the economy.

Muhyiddin will announce new measures to tackle the virus surge on Monday, security minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told reporters.

“We are refining and looking at the new measures in detail to ensure that they work for everyone,” he said during a televised news conference.

Separately, science minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the country’s pharmaceutical regulator has issued a conditional approval for the vaccine manufactured by U.S. and German drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech to be used in Malaysia.

“We are still waiting for a few additional info from Pfizer but this means it can be used in Malaysia,” Khairy posted on his Twitter account.

Malaysia, which has purchased 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, is expected to receive its first shipment of the vaccine next month.

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Govt to establish Covid vaccination counters in Islamabad

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The federal government has made another progress in ongoing preparations for anti-Covid vaccination drive as it has decided to establish 12 coronavirus vaccination counters in Islamabad, citing sources, reported on Friday.

Sources privy to the development told that the counters will be established in urban and rural areas located in the federal capital Islamabad in order to facilitate its citizens.

The COVID-19 vaccination counters will be established in different health centres located in rural areas, as well as in the federally administered hospitals to administer coronavirus vaccines.

The medical facilities where the vaccination counters will be established include Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Poly Clinic, Federal General Hospital (FGH), National Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (NIRM), Social Security Hospital (SSH), Rawat Hospital, health centres of Sihala, Tarlai, Bhara Kahu, Shah Allah Ditta and Temar.

A three-member health team will be deputed on every vaccination counter which will be supervised by the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC), sources added.

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WHO asks patients to take two doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in 21-28 days

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The World Health Organization said Tuesday COVID-19 patients should take two doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine within 21-28 days, as many countries grappled with a more highly infectious coronavirus variant.

“We deliberated and came out with the following recommendation: two 2 doses of this vaccine within 21-28 days,” Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), told an online news briefing.

He said SAGE did not recommend the Pfizer jab for travellers unless they were in a very high-risk group due to the very limited supply of anti-COVID drugs at present.

“While we acknowledge the absence of data on safety and efficacy after one dose beyond the three-four weeks studied in the clinical trials, SAGE made a provision for countries in exceptional circumstances of (Pfizer) vaccine supply constraints to delay the administration of the second dose for a few weeks to maximise the number of individuals benefiting from a first dose,” Cravioto said.

He added: “I think we have to be a bit open to these types of decisions which countries have to make according to their epidemiological situations.”

Kate O’Brien, a WHO immunization expert, said there was no outside limit for receiving a second vaccine dose. Alluding to delays in rolling out inoculations, she added: “Nobody expected this to be easy and we are starting to see where the road bumps are and where we need to make adjustments.”

The WHO’s technical chief on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said there is no indication that the coronavirus variant identified in South Africa is more transmissible than the one spreading fast in Britain.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said he was “very disappointed” that China had not authorised entry of an international mission to examine the origins of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China,” Tedros said. “I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for the WHO.”

China reported the first cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in the city of Wuhan to the WHO on Dec. 31, 2019, and closed a market where the novel coronavirus was believed to have emerged.

Health ministers called on the WHO in May to identify the source of the virus and how it crossed the species barrier.

The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the outbreak’s extent, has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticised its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.

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Federal cabinet approves procurement of Covid-19 vaccine

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The federal cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday allowed the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination to purchase Covid-19 vaccine.

According to details, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Health Dr Faisal Sultan briefed the cabinet on the current Covid-19 situation in Pakistan.

It is to be noted that the ECC had already approved a supplementary grant for the advance purchases of the vaccines. Pakistan has planned to vaccinate health workers and senior citizens in the first phase in a bid to save them from the deadly pandemic.

The government has decided to purchase the coronavirus vaccine from the Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm. The cabinet had already given nod procurement of more than one million coronavirus doses which will cover all frontline health workers.

The cabinet, which met in Islamabad today (Tuesday) with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, also approved setting up of an inspection committee to improve the quality of country’s exports of the fisheries sector.

The committee will comprise members of maritime affairs, commerce ministry and fisheries exporters. The committee will be responsible for the inspection of fish processing plants in the country.

The federal cabinet meeting also granted approval to the appointment of members Press Council of Pakistan.

The cabinet also offered Fateha for departed souls of martyred labourers of the Machh incident, Osama Satti, who died of police firing in Islamabad, and martyrs of the armed forces.


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Two cases of Covid-19 variant detected in Pakistan: NCOC

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The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Covid-19 confirmed on Monday that two cases of the highly contagious coronavirus variant that first emerged in the UK have been detected in Pakistan.

It said the National Institute of Health (NIH) examined a number of samples taken from UK return travellers suspected to be carrying the new Covid-19 variant, out of which two matched with the variant, named B117.

The variant was first detected in Britain last month, the NCOC said, adding it has also been found in 31 other countries. It said Pakistani citizens returning from the UK need to take a mandatory PCR test for the new strain of the deadly virus.

Earlier, on December 29, the Sindh Health Department had confirmed that samples of three people returning from the UK showed a 95 per cent match with the new coronavirus variant in the first phase of genotyping.

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Volunteers who got placebo will be given coronavirus vaccine: Pfizer-BioNTech

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American pharma giant Pfizer Inc and Turkish-couple owned BioNTech have planned to give volunteers who received a placebo in the coronavirus vaccine trial an option to receive a first dose of the anti-dote by March 1, 2021 – while staying within the study.

Under the trial’s Vaccine Transition Option, all participants aged 16 or above have the choice to discover whether they were given the placebo and the patients, who learn they received placebo, have the option to receive the investigational vaccine while staying in the study.

On their websites, the companies have maintained that trial participants who received the placebo would have two doses of the vaccine reserved for them within the study.

“The study doctor will follow the latest guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their local health authorities to offer the Vaccine Transition Option to participants in a prioritised manner,” the companies said.

Vaccine supply

BioNTech is working flat out with partner Pfizer to boost production of their COVID-19 vaccine, its founders said, warning there would be gaps in supply until other vaccines were rolled out.

Owned by a Turkish immigrant to Germany, the startup has led the vaccine race but its shot has been slow to arrive in the European Union because of relatively late approval from the bloc’s health regulator and the small size of the order placed by Brussels.

The delays in rolling out the home-grown vaccine have caused consternation in Germany, where some regions had to halt vaccinations within days of starting an inoculation drive.

“At the moment it doesn’t look good – a hole is appearing because there’s a lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill the gap with our own vaccine,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told news weekly Spiegel.

New highly infectious coronavirus strain

Sahin said the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the coronavirus, should be able to cope with a new, more contagious variant first detected in Britain.

“We are testing whether our vaccine can also neutralise this variant and will soon know more,” he said.

Asked about coping with a strong mutation, he said it would be possible to tweak the vaccine as required within six weeks – though such new treatments might require additional regulatory approvals.

Sahin also said BioNTech would make its vaccine, which requires storage at about minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), easier to handle, adding that a next-generation vaccine could be ready by late summer.

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Coronavirus vaccine: Pakistan to purchase 1.2m doses from China’s Sinopharm

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Pakistan will purchase 1.2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from China’s Sinopharm, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudry said on Thursday.

“The Cabinet Committee has decided to initially purchase 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm, which will be provided free of cost to frontline workers in the first quarter of 2021,” the science minister announced on Twitter.

China approved a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of state-backed pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm on Thursday, its first approved shot for general public use.

Fawad Chaudhry added that the private sector can also import the vaccine approved internationally.

Sources said a decision to this effect was taken Wednesday at the second meeting of the Special Cabinet Committee constituted as an oversight body for procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The meeting was chaired by Minister for Planning Asad Umar and attended by Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry and Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar. The Special Assistant to PM on Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar and SAPM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan attended the meeting on the invitation.

The committee was apprised that a number of countries have pre-booked COVID-19 vaccine based on preliminary or incomplete results in order to ensure timely availability of vaccines for their populations. In some situations, vaccines were pre-booked even in development stages to ensure availability.

The committee was informed of the deliberations of an expert committee formed by DRAP which is in process of reviewing and analyzing available data from clinical studies performed so far. Of available options, data from one company has been submitted for review to the committee for a final adjudication for emergency use.

In line with global practices at present whereby emergency procurement has to be made at times with incomplete and evolving information, the committee decided to pre-book COVID-19 vaccine from Sinopharm.

It was also decided that other manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be engaged in for future bookings for the remaining phases of vaccination, based on further data and availability.

The committee reiterated that the private sector will also be encouraged to approach DRAP and follow the laid down procedures for emergency use authorization of any available and safe COVID-19 vaccine.


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