AstraZeneca, Pfizer vaccines shortage put expat workers in trouble in Pakistan


Overseas Pakistani workers stand in a queue to register before receiving a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a centre in Islamabad on Monday. AFP

Tariq Butt, Correspondent

Pakistanis, who want to go abroad, are in trouble because of shortage of AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine doses. A number of such people have been visiting coronavirus vaccination centres in the Pakistan’s capital Islamabad for three weeks to get vaccinated, but in vain. They have also protested against the authorities and demanded AstraZeneca or Pfizer jabs.

“There was a big crowd and they broke down these glass doors, because they were worried the vaccine would run out,” witness Muhammad Ismail said. He pointed out the shattered remnants of the vaccination centre’s entrance, where a huge crowd swarmed around a handful of medical staff screening people for the shots.

Vaccine-CentreIslamabad-750x450Overseas Pakistani workers stand in a queue to register before receiving a dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Islamabad. AFP

“The Saudis say they don’t want the Chinese vaccine, they want these other ones,” said Ismail, who has a job in a restaurant in Saudi Arabia. “Otherwise they keep you in quarantine, and that costs around 5,000 riyal ($1,333.23). My monthly wages are 1,800 riyal, so how can I afford that?”

He and four relatives travelled to Islamabad hoping to get the AstraZeneca vaccine and finally return to their jobs. They have been stuck in Pakistan for the last 9 months after Saudi Arabia told foreign workers to leave late last year.


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Saudi Arabia, which bars direct travel from Pakistan, has only approved the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Anyone arriving without one of those shots is required to quarantine at a cost many Pakistani workers say they cannot afford.

A week ago, the health department informed the citizens that the vaccine would be shortly available. Officials said the process of vaccinating the general public was underway, but the AstraZeneca vaccine and Sputnik V would be available next month for the people desirous of proceeding abroad.

Meanwhile, Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department (PSHD) Secretary Sarah Aslam and her team visited Expo Vaccination Centre Lahore and inspected the vaccination stock. She issued orders to ensure timely supply of vaccines.

She also inspected the mega ILRs Ultra-Cool Chains System, which maintains a temperature of minus 18 degrees or below for the storage of Russian Vaccine Sputnik. Expo Vaccination Centre has an abundance of Sinopharm, Cansino, and Sinovac vaccines, she said.

Sarah Aslam said that baseless reports regarding the shortage of Sputnik Vaccine should not be believed and more than 50,000 doses of Sputnik Vaccine would be delivered to Punjab this week.

The issue of AstraZeneca vaccine for citizens living abroad is under consideration with the federal government. A special grievance cell has also been set up at the Expo Centre for resolving complaints and issues related to vaccines. As many as 669 vaccination centres have been set up in Punjab including 58 centres in Lahore while more than 200 mobile vaccination centres are also operational.


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