Bhutan receives its first shipment of free Covid-19 vaccine from India

Younten Tshedup 

The first consignment of Covid-19 vaccine, 150,000 doses of Covishield vaccines, arrived in the country yesterday.

An Indian military aircraft (AN-32) brought it to the Paro international airport at around 3:30pm yesterday after initial plans to drop it at the Lungtenphu helipad could not materialise.

A press release from the Indian embassy stated that the consignment was a ‘gift from the people and Government of India to the people and Government of Bhutan’. This means that the 150,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, locally manufactured in India under the name Covishield is for free.

Four days after India began the world’s largest vaccination drive, Bhutan became the first country to receive the vaccines under GoI’s grant assistance programme — Vaccine Maitri.

Led by Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo and other senior government officials received the vaccine consignment handed over by Indian Ambassador, Ruchira Kamboj, yesterday.

A press release from the Prime Minister’s Office stated that Laytshog Lopen Sangay Dorji of the central monastic body presided over the prayers for auspicious endeavour, and conducted a thruesoel (purification) of the consignment.

Lyonchhen after receiving the vaccine consignment said, “It was a gift from a trusted friend, who has been with Bhutan all through the decades and in this pandemic too.”

He thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and the people of India for the generous support, which he said symbolises the close relationship the two neighbours shared. “It is the display of altruism at best, and an exhibit of India’s sincerity in the relationship we cherish,” Lyonchhen said, adding that this gesture comes despite the enormous challenges India currently faced due to the pandemic.

“It is of unimaginable value when precious commodities are shared even before meeting your own needs, as opposed to giving out only after you have enough,” the prime minister said.

Lyonchhen added that the government and people of Bhutan were immensely grateful to the government and people of India for remembering us at this time. “These will all translate into the prayers and prosperity of the people of India, emanating from the grateful hearts of Bhutan. We thank you.”

Earlier, India has also donated essential medicines, medical equipment and personal protective equipment in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic. The GoI has also assured to cover the two doses requirement of Bhutan’s target population of slightly over 533,500 and has committed to deliver the remaining consignments soon, stated the press release.

Vaccine survey 

The health ministry has circulated an online survey to collect feedback from the public on the Covid-19 vaccination programme. Health officials said that the survey was being carried out to ‘get an idea of public opinion in general’.

Officials said that the government was still discussing the vaccination campaign modalities and strategies. “The survey may provide some idea but it will not have any definite decision-making bearing on the vaccination programme.”

Unlike the BCG and polio vaccines where the public have no say on the acceptance of the vaccine, health officials explained that the Covid-19 vaccines were not Expanded Program on Immunisation (EPI) vaccine. “This is an ad-hoc vaccine, which is beyond the recommended schedule of vaccination for children. Vaccines of the EPI are mandated by public health requirements of a country but Covid-19 vaccine may not fall under such mandates.”

The EPI is a World Health Organisation programme with the goal to make vaccines available to all children.

Health officials added that all the respondents taking the survey were kept anonymous and their responses would not have any bearing individually or as a community at the end of the survey.