News of Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan testing positive for coronavirus on Saturday, just two days after receiving his first dose of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, is raising questions about its effectiveness.
Within minutes of the news coming out about Khan's COVID-19 positive result, a debate about the Chinese vaccine's efficacy raged on social media.
The country's health ministry quickly responded that the prime minister was not fully vaccinated when he contracted the virus.
“He only got the first dose merely two days ago which is too soon for any vaccine to become effective. Antibodies develop two to three weeks after the second dose of the two-dose covid vaccine,” it said in a tweet.
وزیر اعظم عمران خان کا کورونا ٹیسٹ جب مثبت آیا تو اس وقت انکی ویکسینیشن مکمل نہیں ہوئی تھی۔ انہیں ویکسین کا پہلا ٹیکا لگے صرف 2 دن ہوئے ہیں، جو کسی بھی ویکسین کے کارآمد ہونے کے لیے بہت کم وقت ہے۔ اینٹی باڈیز ویکسین کا دوسرا ٹیکا لگنے کے دو سے تین ہفتوں کے بعد بننا شروع ہوتی ہیں۔
— Ministry of National Health Services, Pakistan (@nhsrcofficial) March 20, 2021
But this was not the first time that concerns were raised over the effectiveness of the Chinese vaccine. The first objection to being vaccinated with the SinoPharm vaccine came after Pakistan’s health ministry initially declared that the vaccine was unsafe for people older than 60, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
But the government soon retracted its statement and urged people to get themselves vaccinated.
According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan has launched its vaccination drive for the general public on 10 March, starting with elderly people after seeing a poor response from front-line health workers, who expressed concerns about the Chinese vaccine.
As per Health Policy Watch, Pakistan authorities even threatened to fire healthcare workers who refuse to be vaccinated with the Chinese-donated SinoPharm COVID-19 vaccine. In a letter, the Directorate of Health Services in Sindh warned frontline health care workers that reluctance to get the jab will result in “strict disciplinary action” including suspension or dismissal from government services.
Another problem that created scepticism amongst the public is the fact that there is very less public data on the vaccine. According to Washington Post, some trials have shown China’s Sinopharm to be less effective than its Western counterparts, but others have shown that its efficacy is on par with that of vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. However, little clinical data on Sinopharm has been released publicly.
According to The Washinton Post, the Sinopharm vaccine requires two doses about a month apart and can take up to 21 days after the second injection to become fully effective.
In the first two weeks after vaccinations began in February earlier this year, this Al Jazeera report found out that only 32,582 front-line healthcare workers in Sindh, out of an eligible 78,000, had gotten their first jab of the vaccine, as per government data.
In other provinces, the situation was even worse. This comes just as Pakistan officials declared recently that the country was hit by the third wave of the pandemic.
Dr Faisal Sultan, Pakistan’s health minister, told the website that the hesitancy has been driven by healthcare workers “over-analysing the data”.
However, as per The Nation newspaper, the poor attendance in vaccination can also be credited to Punjab province’s health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, who advised people to get vaccinated at their “own risk” and stated that side effects of the vaccine have caused deaths in some countries.
In view of the confusing statements about the vaccine from government officials, doubts have been cast over the vaccine's efficacy. And now with the prime minister testing positive, just two days after taking the vaccine has lead to further mistrust over the Chinese vaccine in the country.
However, China has stood its ground saying the vaccine is not to be blamed for Imran testing positive. Chinese government mouthpiece Global Times quoted Pakistani officials who stated that Imran must have contracted the virus before vaccination and that vaccines cannot be effective in such a short time after inoculation.
With inputs from agencies