Pakistan plans to launch its immunisation programme against Covid-19 next week, starting with health workers getting shots of a free China-made vaccine.
Next door, arch-rival India began one of the world’s biggest inoculation drives against the disease in mid-January.
India makes about 60% of global vaccines and has begun shipping millions of free doses to friendly neighbours in the region, in what is being described as “vaccine diplomacy”. Many believe this is a counter to growing Chinese influence in the region.
Pakistan is not a recipient. The two nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. They came to the brink of war again in 2019 over the disputed territory of Kashmir and the situation there is still tense.
Pakistan plans to inoculate at least 70% of its 220 million people against Covid free of cost. Regulators have given emergency use approval for three candidates – the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made in India, the China-made Sinopharm and Russian-developed Sputnik V.
Almost 90% of vaccines administered in Pakistan come from India. Most of these are distributed through Pakistan’s state-funded immunisation programme which targets 14 million new-borns and pregnant women every year. The children are given jabs against 10 diseases while mothers are inoculated against tetanus.
But could politics interfere in India’s distribution of its Covid-19 vaccines when much of the underdeveloped world worries whether they will receive vaccines any time soon?
“India already has got so many vaccine orders from all over the world. We have cordial relations with vaccine makers across the border. We will try our best to get supplies, but it will take time,” Usman Ghani of Sindh Medical Stores, a leading Karachi-based importer of vaccines told the BBC.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman has said he was not “aware of any request for India-made vaccines” from Pakistan.
Ghani said, “We will harm ourselves if we don’t cooperate on vaccines.”