Well before the development and availability of a Covid-19 vaccine, resistance has started emerging in Pakistan where five tertiary-care health facilities approached to conduct Phase 3 trials of a Chinese vaccine are facing difficulties in recruiting volunteers for the trials.
Phase 3 trials for the Chinese vaccine, CanSino Biological, have started at the Shifa International Hospital, Islamabad, the University of Health Sciences (UHS) and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), Lahore, and the Aga Khan Hospital and the Indus Hospital Karachi after Pakistan’s drug regulator last month gave the go-ahead for the country’s first clinical trials for CanSino’s candidate, Ad5-nCoV, which are being led by National Institute of Health (NIH) along with pharmaceutical company AJM — the local representative of CanSino.
“Yes, there are roadblocks in convincing people to volunteer for the vaccine trials. There are misconceptions in the minds of people as if they are being used as guinea pigs due to conspiracy theories about Covid-19 on social media. But we are steadily heading towards achieving the target of 10,000 volunteers in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi,” said one of the principal investigators (PI) of the clinical trial sites in Pakistan. This comes as a second blow to the Chinese vaccine development attempt after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said his government will not buy a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine, a day after his health minister said it would be added to the immunization program.
The health official, who requested anonymity, said that owing to reluctance among people to volunteer for the clinical trials, they were approaching public health facilities in all three cities. He added that they needed the media’s support for convincing people that it was a good opportunity for Pakistan and its people as this trial would help in developing a vaccine that would be tested on them instead of people from other parts of the world.
“For the first time, Phase 3 clinical trials of the vaccine are being conducted in Pakistan, and it would help in learning about the immune response it generates among local people. The success of these trials would open doors for more trials in the country. In other parts of the world, people volunteer themselves for such trials as this a great service to humanity,” the infectious diseases (ID) expert said and added that so far CanSino had proved to be safe and no severe adverse events had been reported from any country of the world.
Two other principal investigators of the clinical trials; Dr Salma Abbas from Shaukat Khanum Hospital and Dr Faisal Mehmood from the Aga Khan Hospital Karachi also conceded that people were hesitant to volunteer for the clinical trials, but they hoped the situation would improve in the coming days when people learnt about its importance.
“Yes and no, every day we are getting more and more. It takes time to get the news out to people. You can help in spreading the news,” Dr. Faisal Mehmood from the AKUH said when asked if they were facing any difficulties in recruiting volunteers for the clinical trials in Karachi.
Vaccine for 20% of Pakistanis
Pakistan would get the CanSino vaccine for 20 percent of its population or at least 200 million doses once it gets approved after successful trials and other formalities, Prof Dr. Aamer Ikram, executive director, National Institute of Health (NIH), said while speaking at an online seminar or webinar on the Covid-19 vaccine trial launch in Pakistan.
Speaking to the participants of the webinar, organized by the Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Society of Pakistan (MMIDSP), Prof Aamer Ikram said Covid-19 is a challenge for Pakistan, but there was a need to convert this challenge into an opportunity.
He added that they had completed all the formalities for the clinical trials and now it was up to the people to get themselves enrolled so that the vaccine could become available at the earliest.
Dr. Faisal Mehmood spoke on the vaccine facts and myths, saying it was not true that people would acquire the coronavirus infection by getting the vaccine. He also dispelled the impression that Pakistani people were being used as guinea pigs for vaccine development.
“We are a lucky nation that these trials are being conducted in Pakistan. This is a great opportunity for us. There is no truth in saying that this vaccine has a lot of side effects,” he said, adding that this vaccine would not be available by year-end.
It was also wrong to believe that this vaccine would end the pandemic, he said, adding that the vaccine would likely reduce the severity of the infection.
MMIDSP President Dr. Bushra Jamil said vaccines were great inventions that prevented billions of people from acquiring lethal diseases while they had helped mankind in eliminating diseases like smallpox and polio from most parts of the world.
She maintained that it was the first time in Pakistan that clinical trials of a vaccine were being conducted, and by volunteering people could be part of a safety and efficacy study of this important vaccine.
Dr. Naseem Salahuddin from the Indus Health Network, Dr. Ejaz Khan from the Shifa International Hospital Islamabad, Dr. Salma Abbas, and Dr. Shehnoor Azhar also spoke.