Pakistan on Thursday called for coronavirus vaccines approved by global bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to be accepted worldwide as thousands of the country’s expatriate workers fear losing their jobs in the Middle East as each country decides for itself which vaccines are allowed.
“Vaccine acceptability decisions have to be taken by a global institution like WHO,” said Asad Umar, a minister who is leading Pakistan’s fight against the pandemic. “Each country deciding which vaccine is acceptable for travel to that country is creating chaos.”
Expatriate workers staged protests in major cities this week to force the government to arrange AstraZeneca or Pfizer jabs – the two vaccines accepted by countries in the Middle East.
Most of around 12 million Pakistan’s citizens have received the Chinese-made Sinopharm, CanSinoBio or SinoVac shots, none of which is acceptable for travelling to the Middle East or the West.
The South Asian nation has received a limited number of AstraZeneca jabs and signed an agreement for 13 million Pfizer doses this week, but it will take weeks before they arrive.
The WHO has approved Sinopharm and SinoVac for emergency use.
Most of the workers who returned to Pakistan at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year are eager to get back to work in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.
“I may lose my job if I could not return until August,” said Khurram Ahmed, who comes from the town of Pindi Bhattian in central Pakistan and works as a salesman in Kuwait.