The vaccines have arrived, and been cleansed of defilements, health officials and volunteers are readied and logistics all in place.  Bhutan is ready to vaccinate its people against the novel coronavirus or Covid-19.

By next week, Bhutan will be the first among a few countries to have inoculated its entire eligible population, estimated at 533,558, against Covid-19, at least for the first round.

For a small country, it is a big achievement.  The nationwide programme will roll out with the astrologically chosen one, a woman born in the year of the monkey.  Leading by example and to convince doubters, the prime minister and his family will be the next to receive the vaccine, followed by the cabinet ministers and their families.  The vaccine we have is the Indian manufactured Covishield (AstraZeneca).  In the afternoon, the Indian ambassador to Bhutan, and the entire Embassy family will receive the vaccine.

Since March last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the country.  We have managed to restrict casualties to just one death.  But the ripple effect of the pandemic has not spared anyone.  We are still reeling from the impact of the global pandemic.

The hope, for any government or citizen, was a vaccine against the virus.  The vaccine is at our doorstep.  We have enough to inoculate the entire eligible population.  The call is to get it.  Despite recent controversies of side effects of AstraZeneca, there is no medical evidence that relates any ill effects to the vaccine. Bhutan has given much to protect its citizens.  Here is an opportunity to strengthen our defence against the invisible enemy.  We have committed so much.  Here is the simplest way to live up to our words.

Bhutanese believe in what is called mencho rimdo (medical treatment and divine intervention).  The clergy, led by His Holiness the Je Khenpo, has played an active role in ensuring that we are safe from the vaccine.  Monks had been performing the Sangay Menlha, or prayers to the medicinal Buddha, for the vaccine to work.  Images of how the vaccines are received in the dzongkhags are no less than receiving a sacred relic.

In our fight against Covid-19, we are the most prepared country.  About 150,000 doses arrived in the country earlier this year.  We chose to wait.  It gave us enough time to observe, study and prepare.  Our preparation for the vaccination is the most exhaustive preparation the country has gone through in recent years.  Within a few days of the arrival of the 400,000 vaccines, a gift from India, landlocked Bhutan managed to distribute it to all the vaccination centres across the country.

This nationwide exercise should not go in vain.  At the heart of it is to protect our people.  As we roll up our sleeves to get vaccinated, Bhutan’s fight against the pandemic will remain etched in our history.  We have left no stone unturned even if it is at the cost of livelihood of some sections of the populace.

With His Majesty The King at the helm providing guidance and vision, we have been successful in preventing a disaster that even the most developed countries couldn’t.  We have today a medicine (vaccine) that can protect ourselves.  There is no reason why we shouldn’t come forward.  There is no compulsion to get inoculated, but it will be an opportunity missed.  More than that, our individual decision this week will have a lot of bearing on how we control the pandemic.

We have prayed for a solution to the pandemic.  We have one in the form of a vaccine that the entire world had wished for and scientists worked round the clock to discover.  The choice is in our hands.