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PAKISTAN HAS ‘POTENTIAL TO DEVELOP VACCINES’

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Pakistan has the potential to develop vaccines as the country achieved the capability in this area a few years ago, including the availability of specialists and the technology, experts in the fields of infections control and immunisations said on Monday.

Dr Obaid Ali, former federal secretary for biological drugs and Dr Rafiq Khanani, President, Pakistan Infection Control Society (PICS), said that pharmaceutical manufacturing from around the world was shifting to India and China, but unfortunately, vaccine development was stalled in Pakistan over the past decade.

“Pakistan has been capable of developing vaccines. The NIH [National Institute of Health] Islamabad has all the capabilities to make a vaccine… there are also vaccine specialists and technologists in the country,” Dr Khanani told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview.

“Unfortunately, vaccine development process had been stalled in the country over the past decade,” he said.

His views were endorsed by Dr Ali. “The manufacturing of Pakistan’s pharma companies is dependent on the neighbouring countries, especially China and India,” he said.

Unfortunately, Dr Ali added, the vaccine industry had been paralysed and as a result even “our basic vaccine requirement” was met through imports. “These vaccines are imported through international institutions and commercial companies.”

Responding to a question about the Covid-19 vaccines and trials, Dr Ali said that the technique to develop the Covid-19 vaccine was new. “This technique is safe and effective but only time will tell how useful it is after which the claim of its efficacy could be substantiated,” he added.

“The trial for the vaccine has been completed in different countries. Finally, the trial phase got under way. There is a significant evidence of a lifetime of immunity but if a major change is observed in the structure of the virus later, the vaccine may not work,” he said.

About Pakistan, Dr Ali opined that the country might not be in too much need of the vaccines because it seems that “most of our population has developed immunity against coronavirus”. He added that a second virus of this family already existed in Pakistan against which “our antibodies are working”.  

“These antibodies have the potential to be effective against Covid-19 too. In the presence of this evidence, it can be said that our large population has developed immunity,” said Dr Ali, adding that many theories and estimates regarding the virus proved wrong in Pakistan.

When asked about the second wave of the pandemic, Prof Dr Khanani opined that the severity of coronavirus would be limited in Pakistan as compared to the first phase. “The immunity of the Pakistanis is one of the highest in Asian countries, while respiratory immunity system in particular, is very strong.”

Referring to the first wave of Covid-19 in Pakistan, he said that due to improved immunity among the population, the severity of the virus had declined significantly in Pakistan as the number of new cases were decreasing gradually.

“Now, this virus is spreading less. In hotspots where it is still spreading, it is showing a declining trend. Immunity has led to changes in the structure of the virus, which is reducing its ability to spread,” he said, adding that although, the second wave would not be that severe in Pakistan, people with weak immune systems needed to be careful.

He said that several trials of Covid-19 vaccine were in the final stages and the human trials of six of these vaccines had been started but the results of the tested vaccines were not yet known to the world, including Pakistan.

“These companies are making different claims. But it will take at least six months or a year to determine the effectiveness of these vaccines,” Dr Khanani said. “After the first wave, the cases of heart attack, memory loss, stroke, paralysis, weakness in the joints and kidney disease had increased.