Thursday, October 21, 2021

Pakistan PM Khan tests positive for Covid-19, sparking fears over more vaccine hesitancy

Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy is high in Pakistan, particularly over Chinese vaccines.

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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, two days after receiving his first vaccine dose, government officials have said, urging people not to let that deter them from getting vaccinated.

Pakistan’s vaccination roll-out has been met with widespread vaccine hesitancy, and Khan’s positive test could turn even more people against the inoculation drive in the country of 220 million people, health experts are saying.

Health Minister Faisal Sultan said Khan was “in good health” with a mild cough and fever and was self-isolating at home, adding that the 68-year-old premier had likely been infected in the days before he got his first vaccine shot on Thursday.

Sultan told local television that people should not link the prime minister’s coronavirus infection with the vaccine, which takes times to build antibodies.

In neighbour and arch-rival India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to wish Khan “a speedy recovery”.

While it was not mentioned which vaccine Khan was given, the vaccine produced by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) is the only one currently available in Pakistan, according to Reuters.

After his positive test result, Khan expressed concern that it could deter citizens from getting vaccinated, his advisor Shahbaz Gill told local television.

He said Khan, former captain of the national cricket team who became prime minister in August 2018, had been seen attending crowded gatherings, often without wearing a mask.

Asad Umar, the minister in charge of the country’s Covid-19 operations, said in a tweet it was “certain that PM had been infected prior to vaccination”.

“So please do vaccinate,” he urged.

Vaccine hesitancy is common in Pakistan, which is one of only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic due to widespread rumours permanently circulating against inoculation.

The prime minister’s decision to broadcast footage of himself receiving the jab was praised as an attempt to encourage others to do the same, but there are fears his illness will boost vaccine scepticism.

Earlier this month, a poll showed that hesitancy against the Covid-19 vaccination was also high among healthcare workers – particularly over Chinese vaccines.

Khan’s positive test comes as Pakistan is seeing a steep rise in infections.

According to numbers released by government, nearly 4,000 people tested positive in the last 24 hours – the highest number of daily infections since early July – taking the total number of infections in the country past 620,000.

There were also 42 more deaths, taking the total to 13,799.

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