By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has tested positive for COVID-19 two days after receiving his first vaccine dose, government officials said on Saturday, urging people not to be deterred from getting vaccinated.
Pakistan’s vaccination roll-out has been met with widespread vaccine hesitancy, and Khan’s positive test could serve as a setback to the mass inoculation drive in the country of 220 million people, health experts said.
Khan, 68, is “self isolating at home,” Health Minister Faisal Sultan, said in a tweet, and a close aide said he had a mild cough and fever.
Senior aides stressed that he had likely been infected before he was vaccinated on Thursday.
While it was not clear which vaccine the prime minister was given, the vaccine produced by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) is the only one available in Pakistan.
Khan expressed concern after his positive test result that it could deter ordinary people from getting vaccinated, his advisor Shahbaz Gill told a local television.
He said Khan, who has been seen attending regular gatherings – often without wearing a mask, had mild symptoms.
Asad Umar, the minister in-charge of the country’s COVID-19 operations, said in a tweet it was “certain that PM had been infected prior to vaccination.”
“So please do vaccinate,” Umar added.
Another government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters Khan had told him on Friday that he had a fever after getting the shot.
Vaccine hesitancy is common in Pakistan, which is one of two countries in the world where polio remains endemic due to widespread conspiracies against inoculation.
Earlier this month, a poll showed that hesitancy against the COVID-19 vaccination was also high among healthcare workers – particularly over Chinese vaccines.
Khan’s positive test comes as Pakistan sees a steep rise in infections.
According to numbers released by government, 3,876 people tested positive in the last 24 hours – the highest number of daily infections since early July – taking the total number of infections in the country past 620,000.
There were also 42 more deaths, taking the total to 13,799.
(Additional Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Jibran Ahmad in Oeshawar; Editing by Kim Coghill and Helen Popper)
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