Former Pakistani model and social commentator Iffat Omar was recently criticized after video clips were posted on social media allegedly showing her being vaccinated against Covid at the residence of Federal Housing Minister Tariq Basheer Cheema. The viral clips were shared on his Instagram account by Nawal Cheema, a relative of Tariq Bashir, which showed health workers vaccinating several people, most of whom were clearly under the age of 60, gathered at the minister’s residence.
Responding to criticism that followed, Omar tweeted: “I would like to clarify that this was a recall of a Cansino vaccine (trial) received from UHS which also provided the previous vaccine. It is neither illegal nor privilege, ”said Omar. That may not have been entirely true soon after, Omar deleted her tweet when numerous social media mentioned that the vaccine she was referring to (Cansino) was a single dose vaccine and that the trials were long over. It was also questioned why she was vaccinated in a private residence since the authorities do not have such protocols for the general public.
Omar is not alone. Many others have also broken the line, using their connections and privileges. Time and time again we have heard of politicians doing this, but to be fair, many others have abused their powers as well. We have heard reports that members of Karachi’s most exclusive club have been facilitated at Jinnah Hospital (JPMC), which is located near the club. While hundreds of people had to wait in the heat and dust, these club members were given priority to get vaccinated. The members who came for the jab weren’t just those over 60. Many young people also participated in the exercise.
In an interview on the political commentary “Zara Hut Kay”, journalist Waqar Bhatti, who covers health as part of his beats, estimated that in Sindh alone, more than 14,000 undeserving people were vaccinated. If we look at the bigger picture in Pakistan, it would be even more depressing. Bhatti’s statement comes at a time when reporters were discussing the tweet of fellow colleague Abbas Shabbir, who proudly shared a photo on social media of himself being vaccinated. The problem with Shabbir’s tweet was that he is under 50 and one can only wonder under what circumstances a government hospital in Islamabad administered a Covid-19 vaccine to him. So far, no response has been given. But many insist that a number of journalists have broken the line, using their influence and connections.
And then there are those who argue that journalists should be given priority in the same way that healthcare workers have that privilege. Journalists are at the forefront of reporting on Covid and they usually do this kind of reporting at great risk for themselves. There is an argument to be made here. But journalists, like teachers, must defend their interests and not pass these services under the table. This is a problem that must be resolved soon.
Earlier this year, when the first phase of inoculation of frontline health workers against Covid-19 began, the Minister of Development Planning and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar, alleged that the vaccine was being administered to personalities of Sindh. He claimed that at the Center, the vaccine had not even been administered to Prime Minister Imran Khan, federal ministers or their families. In his tweet, Umar said complaints had been received that people other than healthcare workers were receiving their vaccines in Karachi. As a result, government officials in Sindh were instructed at the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) meeting to vaccinate only healthcare workers. So far, so good.
But it seems that instead of forcing the Sindh government to adhere to established procedures, the Center has also become part of the law. It is time for the government to go the extra mile to ensure not only those who deserve it, but also those who abuse the system are punished for it. This is all the more important now – given that the private sector now also offers Covid injections. For those who feel that they cannot wait any longer, it is better to pay out of pocket. The others should wait their turn and stand in line.
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