OTR

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off record
 
Shaukat Ali Jawaid
 

Side effects of Corona vaccine
Professional ethics and
responsibilities of Media

Two respectable judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Mr. Justice Qazi Faiz Isa and Mr. Justice Maqbool Baqar during a recent hearing of a case related to Local Body elections remarked that Media was not free in Pakistan and their viewpoint was confirmed by the representatives of the media present in the court. This is an extremely important observation.

If Media and Judiciary are free and functioning independently in a country, it is a check on not only dictatorship but also eventually leads to political stability which is extremely important for the economic development and progress of the country. However, it must also be emphasized that while on one hand the Media has certain rights to be free it also has certain responsibilities and positive results can only be achieved if members of the media follow professional ethics, refrain from sensationalism, convey the correct news after proper verification and give equal opportunity to others to disagree and thus become a medium of healthy debate on important issues. It helps in creating a consensus on many issues provided people do not have their own personal agenda and they keep the national interest supreme.

We lost half the country East Pakistan during the 1971 crisis and one of the most important reasons was that media was not free and the Nation did not know the ground realities. They were forced to accept the official version of events and happenings. Then suddenly we heard the Surrender of Pakistan Army in East Pakistan and the whole Nation was stunned. All such mishaps can be avoided if Media is free.

The importance of independent Judiciary and Free media can never be over emphasized. However, most of the political parties when in opposition favour free press but do not hesitate to use all tactics to silence the free media when they come to power. It is high time that they give up these double standards. It is also heartening to note that for the last two years now one hears voices increasingly urging all the institutions to function within their specified domain in the Constitution. In fact this coupled with free and fair elections, pure democracy and accepting the people’s mandate is the solution to most of our problems and the day it is achieved, we will march forward as God almighty has blessed Pakistan with tremendous human and material resources.

The current COVID19 pandemic has created a very serious situation. The economic recovery is very slow, business have suffered a great loss, there have been massive unemployment and with no more job opportunities, things might become still worse in the days to come if we as a Nation failed to learn some lessons from our past mistakes and plan with foresight and vision.

We have started getting COVID19 vaccine as a gift from our all-time friend China and its fair distribution must be ensured. As agreed all over the world and recommended by the WHO, healthcare professionals who are the front line worriers in this battle and many of them have lost their lives rightly deserve preference followed by elderly population. At the same time keeping in view that still a segment of our society has certain misconceptions about the virus, if some VIPs and only a selected few government functionaries’ get themselves vaccinated it will send a positive message that vaccination is safe. Adequate arrangements for storage, transportation administration of the vaccine must be ensured all over the country and one hopes this will not be politicized. More recently there have been some reports in the media regarding side effects of the vaccine without proper scrutiny. First it was Punjab Health Minister Prof. Yasmin Rashid who said that people will have to get themselves vaccinated at their own risk as there are some side effects and then came a statement from Advisor to the PM on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan that Chinese vaccine was not safe for people over sixty years of age. What our Chinese friends and their Government who selected Pakistan one of the few countries for a donation of COVID19 Vaccine must be thinking about our attitude and behaviour. The problem with the PTI leaders is that they do not realize the serious implications before making these statements. When they realize, the damage has already been done and then efforts are made at damage control. Fortunately Dr. Faisal Sultan did gave detailed explanation of his statement while talking to Anchorperson Mr. Salim Safi in Jirga on Sunday February 7th 2021.1 Great care needs to be taken while making any such statements in the media which can send a wrong message to the public at large. A report in Daily DAWN of February 8th 2021 says that Capital’s frontline health workers adopt “wait-and-see” approach to vaccine.2

It is heartening to note that vaccine from China was tested in Pakistan in a trial in which over twenty thousand volunteers had participated. This was carried out at five centers in Pakistan including a public sector University of Health Sciences at Lahore which alone enrolled over thousands of volunteers. I myself over seventy years of age was one of the volunteers at UHS and after the vaccination (though I am still not sure whether it was pure vaccine or placebo) I have received over half a dozen phone calls from the vaccination team in follow up asking for any adverse effects which shows how minutely following professional ethics and well known guidelines the trial was conducted for which credit of course goes to the Vice Chancellor of UHS Prof. Javed Akram who was the Principal Investigator at UHS and his dedicated team of healthcare professionals involved in this trial. Many of the volunteers including myself were over sixty five years of age and so far no serious adverse effects has been reported. As such great care needs to be taken while talking about the safety, efficacy and adverse effects of COVID19 vaccines. The results of the Trial are being analyzed and the final report is likely to be made public in March 2021 which should be awaited. In the meantime no negative publicity about vaccination should be encouraged by the media to frighten the public.

Finally we should remain ever grateful to Peoples Republic of China which is a real friend of Pakistan who has already donated millions of doses of Chinese Vaccine for COVID19 to Pakistan which is being administered to healthcare professionals.

References

  1. Dr. Faisal Sultan’s interview in Jirga with Salim Safi on Geo TV on February 7th 2021.
  2. Capital’s frontline health workers adopt “wait-and-see” approach to vaccine. Daily DAWN February 8th 2021. Page-04.
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