The Punjab government has decided to block the SIM cards of people refusing to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, an official said. The step was among several decisions taken by the provincial government to control the spread of Covid-19 and speed up the vaccination process, including opening walk-in vaccination for all adults from June 12. “Final decision has been taken to block the mobile SIM cards of people not getting vaccinated,” Punjab Specialised Healthcare Department spokesman Syed Hammad Raza said. A high-level meeting chaired by Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid also decided to set up mobile vaccination camps outside major shrines in the province, and fully open businesses in all districts where at least 20 per cent of the population has been vaccinated.
This indicates that vaccine hesitancy is still widespread. Conspiracy theories as well as the fear of serious side-effects have created an air of paranoia. This seems to be the single biggest factor that is constantly hampering the inoculation drive. About 30,000 people across the country have failed to receive a second dose while millions more have yet to get the first. In such a situation, is it ethical to force the masses into getting the vaccine by imposing restrictions onto them?
Considering the aftermath in India, the devastating toll on the economy and healthcare sector in Pakistan, and the fact that people continue to blatantly flout SOPs, a considerable push in the form of incentives is needed since lives are increasingly at risk with each new wave. Even though the NIH has denied rumours that the government will “forcibly” administer the vaccine, the overall system should encourage and urge those who remain skeptical.
The issue is that many people continue to resist the vaccine because of the fake news put over social media and also because of the lack of information available to them from credible sources, such as doctors with standing, celebrities, and other figures who should be shown on television, receiving their jab. It is vital to Pakistan that as many people as possible receive the vaccine, and that the country is able to escape the effects of the Covid-19 crisis that have crippled many parts of its working, notably in the education centre, but also other areas for almost a year and a half. The only way to make this happen is to deliver more and more vaccines to people.
The announcement by the NCOC is useful and perhaps necessary in a situation such as ours — though compulsory vaccination or any medical procedure does raise some ethical questions.Measures taken by the Centre and the Sindh government, such as allowing only vaccinated people into malls and cinemas and threatening to suspend the salaries of government employees, seem to be less radical but equally effective. However, the absence of uniformity in the measures taken shows the lack of communication between the provinces, which is equally essential in times of crisis.