ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Pakistan capital is leading the country in vaccinating its population against COVID-19, with health ministry data up to Sept. 30 showing more than 85 percent of people in Islamabad had received a first dose and 47 percent were fully vaccinated.
This compared to only 15 percent of the target group in the country’s least populous province of Balochistan having been administered one jab, the data showed.
The government launched a national vaccination drive in February this year, prioritizing health care workers and elderly citizens before broadening the campaign. Now in the fourth wave of the pandemic, Pakistani officials say that a ramped-up vaccination campaign has helped to push down daily infection rates from a peak of more than 9 percent in August to less than 2 percent currently.
About 125 million of Pakistan’s 220 million total population is eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. Among the eligible population, about 90 million have received at least one dose since February, health ministry data shows.
As of Monday this week, fully vaccinated Pakistanis constituted 26 percent of the target population, with all federating units saying that they were ramping up efforts to boost daily vaccination rates by launching door-to-door campaigns and forbidding unjabbed people from using public transportation, air travel, buying fuel at petrol stations and using other essential services.
“The COVID-19 vaccination has helped us reduce the severity of disease and hospitalization rates among those infected with the virus in Islamabad,” Dr. Hasan Orooj, director general of health services in Islamabad told Arab News, saying the administration was vaccinating eligible people at public transport stands, weekly bazaars and public and private offices.
“We (Islamabad) are well ahead of our (vaccination) target, but still people should continue to follow health guidelines to prevent the next wave,” Orooj cautioned, adding that his teams were also working to bridge a vaccination gap between rural and urban areas of the capital.
“The vaccination numbers in Islamabad’s rural areas are comparatively low, and we are mobilizing our special teams to bring it on a par with urban areas,” he said.
According to official data collected by Arab News from all four provinces and Islamabad, the impoverished Balochistan province has the lowest vaccination rates, with only 7 percent of the province fully vaccinated and 15 percent partially jabbed. The province is Pakistan’s largest — it makes up more than 40 percent of the total land area of Pakistan — but it is also the least populous.
Statistics show a total of 1.25 million individuals — including people from other cities — had received at least one dose of a vaccine in Islamabad as of last week, though only 686,905 people had been fully vaccinated.
Islamabad’s eligible population for the COVID-19 vaccination is about 1.46 million, of which 47 percent are fully vaccinated, health department data showed.
In Punjab, 45 percent people are partially vaccinated, followed by 39 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 35.53 percent in Sindh and 15 percent in Balochistan.
Punjab Health Secretary Imran Sikandar Baloch said that about 233 million people in the province had been administered a first dose, while a second dose had been administered to more than 10 million people.
“Punjab is leading the national vaccination drive both in numbers and percentages,” Baloch said.
Sharing the vaccination data of major cities in the province, the secretary said that 58 precent of Rawalpindi’s population had been administered the first dose, 53 percent of Multan’s, 51 percent of Lahore’s, 52 precent of Gujranwala’s and 41 percent of Faisalabad’s.
The districts of Jhelum and Mandi Bahauddin had partially vaccinated 69 percent and 62 percent of eligible individuals respectively, the secretary said.
To boost inoculation numbers, Baloch said that the provincial government had devised door-to-door campaigns, especially in rural and hard-to-reach areas.
“We have also decided to target small populated units with mobile vaccination centers,” he added.
In Sindh province, 35.53 percent of 34.8 million eligible individuals had been partially vaccinated, according to the health department. The number of those who had received at least one dose in the province stood at 12.4 million while 5.4 million were fully vaccinated, according to official data compiled up to Thursday.
Data from the different divisions of Sindh showed Karachi division was 42.81 percent partially vaccinated, Hyderabad division 29.68 percent, Sukkur division 26.03 percent, Mirpur Khas division 48.94 percent, Shaheed Benazir Abad division 34.06 percent and Larkana division 24.54 percent.
Sindh had administered 150,000 vaccines a day on average in the past two weeks in Sindh province, said Mehar Khursheed, a spokesperson for the Sindh Health Department.
Sindh is home to Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, the nation’s financial hub, where the vaccine rate is higher than other parts of the province.
Khursheed said that the vaccination rate was high in urban districts due to high awareness among people, while the district administration was strictly implementing an obligatory vaccine regime to improve vaccination numbers in low-performing districts.
“Sindh is the first province that has taken bold steps in terms of the obligatory regime to increase its vaccination coverage, like blocking mobile phone SIMs, banning commercial activities and travel by unvaccinated people,” Khursheed told Arab News.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, authorities have partially vaccinated about 39 percent of its target population. Overall, more than 9 million people from the northwestern province had received a first dose while 3.2 million were fully vaccinated, according to the provincial health department.
Dr. Niaz Muhammad, director general, KP health, said that some districts such as Abbottabad, Haripur, Mansehra, Chitral, Orakzai, Peshawar and Kurram had good vaccination results but poor awareness continued to fuel vaccine hesitancy and low immunization rates in other areas.
“We are sending outreach teams in view of the reluctance among some people and carrying out mass door-to-door vaccination,” Muhammad told Arab News. “People had some concerns due to some media reports coupled with poor awareness but we’re working to improve our communication strategy.”
In addition, he said that the government had already announced an obligatory vaccine regime under which the transport sector and school children would need to have received one COVID-19 vaccination dose by Oct. 15.
In Balochistan, official data showed that about 1,482,791 people had been vaccinated in 33 districts of the province between February and September.
Dr. Naqeeb Niazi, deputy in-charge, operation cell, primary and secondary health department in Balochistan, said that the first dose coverage in the province had reached up to 15 percent while only 7 percent were fully vaccinated — the lowest vaccination rate in the country.
“We have been implementing an obligatory regime of vaccination from Oct. 1, and hope the vaccination number will increase in districts with low numbers by Oct. 31,” Niazi told Arab News.
A senior official at the National Command and Operation Center, Pakistan’s federal pandemic response body, said that vaccination rates varied “because of the peculiar environment and population of every province.”
“Punjab is leading the vaccination drive among provinces because it is the most populated territory in the country,” he said, declining to be named. “Similarly, the low turnout in Balochistan is due to its geographic location, not because of less government motivation to vaccinate the provincial population.”
He said that people in the remote, sparsely populated Balochistan province had to travel long distances to reach vaccination centers, while lack of awareness and misinformation also continued to fuel low rates in the region.
“Vaccination numbers are usually low in rural areas of the country for different reasons, including low motivation and the luxury to avoid government-imposed restrictions because they don’t need to travel by air or go to restaurants for which it is mandatory to get vaccinated now,” the official said.
Additional reporting by Naimat Khan in Karachi, Rehmat Mehsud in Peshawar and Saadullah Akhter in Quetta