Vaccine inequity threatens COVID-19 battle in Sindh province

Statesman Report

ISLAMABAD: Disparity in coronavirus vaccine coverage in Sindh is threatening the provincial pandemic response as government officials say they are trying to overcome vaccine hesitancy through public engagement and awareness campaigns.

Sindh is one of the worst-hit federating units in the country. Coronavirus has claimed over 6,700 lives in the province while more than 49,000 patients remain under treatment and 1,117 are critical at hospitals. The overall virus positivity rate in Sindh stands at eight percent while it is 13.2 percent in Karachi, 12.28 percent in Hyderabad and 4.44 percent in the rest of the province.

The Sindh government has been struggling to immunize its adult population but unequal vaccine coverage remains a major hurdle. The total eligible population for vaccination in the province is 27.5 million.

The data shows that vaccine coverage in eight districts of Larkana and Sukkur divisions has been the lowest (14-15 percent).

“There is vaccine hesitancy in some areas in Larkana and Sukkur divisions and we are trying to address it through public engagement,” Qasim Siraj Soomro, parliamentary secretary for health in Sindh, told Arab News, adding that the government had also engaged clerics and politicians to create awareness about vaccines and dispel misinformation.

“We are hopeful to achieve our vaccination target across the province within the stipulated timeframe through our multipronged immunization strategy,” he added.

Total vaccine coverage in the province was recorded at 31.09 percent on Thursday, according to official data available with Arab News.

Karachi’s South district had the highest vaccine coverage in the province at 82.63 percent, which dropped to as low as 13.4 percent in Dadu district. In Karachi West, vaccine coverage was recorded at 17.39 percent, Karachi Central 28.03 percent, Malir 30.19 percent; Kurangi 39.64 percent and Karachi East 76.30 percent.

Overall vaccine coverage in Karachi Division stood at 41.94 percent, Hyderabad Division 24.74 percent, Sukkur Division 16.51 percent, Mirpur Khas Division 39.03 percent, Shaheed Benazirabad Division 28.06 percent and Larkana Division 19.08 percent. 

Dr. Qaisar Sajjad, secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association, said unequal vaccine coverage in Sindh’s rural and urban areas would continue to fuel coronavirus spread. 

“The intercity and interprovincial travel of unvaccinated people will keep contributing to the virus spread,” he told Arab News. “Therefore, the government should ensure uniform vaccination across the country.”

Sajjad said the government must expedite immunization to meet its target of inoculating at least 70 percent adults by the end of the year. “It’s a national problem and the authorities need to deal strictly with the vaccine refusals.”