COVID-19 vaccination drive urged to include over 10 million Gipsies, homeless people

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ISLAMABAD, 20 October 2021 : Pakistan government is planning to include more than 10 millions of nomads and homeless people into the radar of COVID-19 vaccination program, according to Gwadar Pro.

Unfortunate section of society is unvaccinated as the majority of them do not have National Identity Card (NIC), a mandatory credential to get registered and become eligible for COVID-19 shots.

Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar, who is also Special Assistant to Chief Minister Punjab on Information & Special Initiative, told Gwadar Pro that the health authorities have taken up the issue with National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) on serious ground. “Deliberations are going on to make undocumented communities entitled for COVID-19 vaccination program” he added.

Ministry of Health Services Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC) spokesperson Sajid Hussain Shah said, “Government policy is very clear in this respect: everyone in Pakistan has to be protected through vaccination. NCOC has worked with National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) to facilitate the issuance of NICs to all who do not have it for any reason.

Provision of assigning a temporary identity are also being made available to ensure that a valid certificate can be issued to all individuals vaccinated on Pakistani soil.”

“Among moe than 0.3 million Gipsies sprawling in their makeshifts huts in Lahore, most are deprived of government-led COVID-19 vaccination campaign as they lack NIC.

Owing to their nomadic lifestyle, vulnerable communities do not have permanent addresses so they fail to meet government’s condition of proving permanent residence to get NIC,” said Nazir Ahmed Ghazi, Executive Director Grass-root Organization for Human Development (GODH), an NGO working for basic education and health program for Gipsies in Lahore in collaboration with MISEREOR, the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation.

He said that a number of nomads lived in very close proximity of general public. “They come to our contact as house maids, garbage-pickers, laborers, vendors and beggars.

During marriage ceremonies and other occasions, as drummers, singers and dancers, they visit our places as a part of routine,” he added and alarmed that if they stay unimmunized, threat of COVID-19 spread will loom large. In case it happens, he said that lop-sided vaccination program would prelude to throwing a spanner in the entire rigorous efforts to contain the pandemic.

He urged the government to craft an inclusive COVID-19 vaccination program for nomads and homeless people by allowing them to submit any document for example examined and signed by community center, health center, Union Council as a proof for their identity in place of NIC, scrapping the condition of permanent residence. “We raised voice over the issue in the parliament already,” he added.

University of Health Sciences VC Dr. Javed Akram who is also member of Scientific Task Force on COVID-19, pressed hard for incorporating Gipsies and homeless people into COVID-19 vaccination program, saying they should never be missed out. Government must issue them NIC by using all ways and means, he added.