Vaccines sell out in Pakistan as the private market opens, raising concerns of inequality

A vial of the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine at a cold storage facility in Karachi, Pakistan

(CNN)Pakistan is in a tight spot: Covid-19 cases are surging during a third wave, hospital beds are filling up, and the government vaccination program is progressing slowly due to delayed deliveries and limited supplies.

So last month, it became one of the few countries to allow the private sector to import and sell vaccines.
Initial sales of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in the first weekend of April caused a frenzy, with crowds rushing to vaccination centers and queuing for hours for their shot.
    Several centers sold out in days. Others that had initially allowed walk-ins switched to online sign-ups after being inundated with people. Many online booking systems have since been paused, as clinics slowly work through a backlog of inquiries.
      One major importer is private pharmaceutical company AGP Pharma, which has received 50,000 doses of the two-shot Sputnik vaccine. Other companies and private hospitals are in the process of applying and placing orders.
      People receive the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 1.
      The government has received 2.56 million doses of vaccines, all from China, according to local reports citing the health ministry. About one million people have been vaccinated with those shots since February, mostly in priority groups such as health care workers and those above age 50 -- leaving a huge percentage of the country's 238 million residents left waiting, according to official figures.
      The private vaccines, however, are open to everyone -- and many people, otherwise ineligible for the government's program, are now hoping to secure a slot in private clinics.
        "It's good that it's available privately, I have no idea when our turn will come through the government," said Anushka Jatoi, 35, who got the vaccine with her family at a private hospital in the southern city of Karachi.
        But the private sales have also raised concerns about pricing and accessibility, and highlighted the country's deep-rooted social inequality. Most private sales are in large cities, such as Karachi and Islamabad, and remain inaccessible to residents in more rural areas -- and the price remains beyond most of Pakistan's population.