Pakistan is missing a vital ingredient of public support in the COVID-19 fight as many people are refusing to get vaccinated despite government's public health guidelines.
"The government is providing vaccinations and spreading awareness, but people aren't coming to get vaccinated. We have even started a door-to-door service, but people have their own reservations and are reluctant. Only the educated ones are getting vaccinated," Dr Waseem Baig, the coordinator of Balochistan's COVID-19 vaccination cell, told The Diplomat.
"They are scared of the vaccines. They fear something might happen to them because of it. We've spread awareness through newspapers, ulema [clerics], interviews of senior doctors, showing public office holders getting vaccinated on media and social media. But still very few people are coming to get the vaccines," Baig added.
While COVID-19 variants are wreaking havoc globally, the vaccination drives in various countries have set up a line of defence to curb the impact of a worldwide third wave of coronavirus. However, Pakistan's tally of administered vaccines was around 800,000, enough to vaccinate just 0.2 per cent of the population, reported The Diplomat.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, writing in The Diplomat stated that at this rate Pakistan would need another four-and-a-half year to vaccinate just 10 per cent of its 220 million people.
Israel already has 60 per cent of its population vaccinated, the UK 50 per cent, Chile 42 per cent, and Bahrain 40 per cent. In South Asia, Bhutan has vaccinated 63 per cent, the Maldives 55 per cent, and even India - with a population six times larger than Pakistan, has provided vaccines to 8.1 per cent of its populace, reported The Diplomat.
Health experts and local doctors cite a gamut of reasons behind the vast majority's reluctance to get themselves vaccinated. Much of it is rooted in conspiracy theories that range from the infamous "microchip implantation" notion to the more localised dubbing of the vaccinations being a part of a Western "anti-Islam" agenda to weaken Pakists and Muslims, wrote Shahid.
The Diplomat's visits to urban centers like Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, and Peshawar along with rural areas along the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) underlined varying degrees of negligence and downright denial about the threat posed by COVID-19.
In rural areas, COVID-19 guidelines have been limited to banners in front of hospitals, or government-sponsored advertisements on TV and radio and in newspapers. Face masks have been non-existent in rural areas throughout the pandemic, while urban centers have seen the number of residents adhering to the government's standard operating procedures (SOPs) - already a minority last year - shrink to a minuscule number since the start of 2021.
Locals across the country have been circumventing bans on indoor gatherings such as weddings by setting up the events under tents. Even in areas in urban cities where smart lockdowns have been imposed by the government, it has been common to see masses come out in numbers in blatant breaches of the apparent policies. The elite have been defying the government bans with impunity.
Similarly, none of the mosques visited by The Diplomat across the nation over the past nine months maintained social distancing during congregational prayers, with face masks a rarity. Where hundreds of devotees thronged various shrines across the country, some of the few who were wearing a mask while visiting the tombs were even being asked to remove the face masks to ensure "respect" for the saint.
"It is sinful to cover your face like this. Take off the face mask and let the holy smell of the itr [perfume] in," an orgser of the weekly rituals at Lahore's Data Darbar - South Asia's largest Sufi shrine, where thousands have continued to throng on Thursday evenings throughout the pandemic - told Shahid.
Locals nationwide have similarly been skeptical of the government's own sincerity when it comes to fighting the pandemic. Many believe that the government's COVID-19 rhetoric is designed for the consumption of global health orgsers and funders, resulting in a stark contrast between official messages and the realities on the ground, even in government healthcare centers.
Many government officials are similarly seen flouting their own guidelines, as witnessed during last month's Senate elections and by ministers of the ruling party who have openly shared images of private gatherings.
"Have you ever seen Imran Khan wearing a mask? In press conferences, [the political leaders] are sitting next to each other rarely following any SOPs. They are still holding massive rallies where no one follows any health guidelines," remarked a Hyderabad-born cab driver, Mohammed Shakil, during The Diplomat's visit to Karachi earlier this year.
( With inputs from ANI )
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