EXCLUSIVE-Pakistan to allow private firms to import COVID shots, exempt from price caps -documents

ISLAMABAD, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Pakistan is to allow private companies to import coronavirus vaccines and has agreed to exempt such imports from price caps, according to documents reviewed by Reuters, even as the nation scrambles to secure supplies.

The documents show the National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination division had sought a special cabinet exemption to allow for such imports, while excluding the imported vaccines from the strict price cap regime that is typically applied to all drug sales within the country.

The documents show the cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved the proposal. Health Minister Faisal Sultan confirmed the cabinet decision to Reuters.

The decision is significant as Pakistan has yet to secure substantive volumes of vaccines from any companies and it only this month launched a vaccination drive with 500,000 doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine donated by long-time ally China.

Those shots are first being given out to frontline health workers on a priority basis.

Sultan said that Pakistan still planned to inoculate its population for free and only a “small minority” who wish to pay for the shots will have that option in the open market.

“Only those who wish to get it via private sector will pay anything,” he said. “Personally, my assessment is that when the vaccines are available and we have market competition, that will automatically set the prices.”

Pakistan, which has recorded more than 550,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 12,000 deaths, is still largely reliant on the GAVI/WHO COVAX vaccine initiative that is aiming to provide shots to poorer nations.

Pakistan has yet to receive any of the 17 million doses it is expected to get through the COVAX initiative. (Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Nick Macfie Editing by Euan Rocha and Nick Macfie)