…Bhutan helps Nepal fight Covid-19 by sending surplus vaccine 

Younten Tshedup  

After almost missing the revised deadline of 16 weeks for the second dose of Covid-19 vaccination, Bhutan has not only vaccinated more than 95 percent of its eligible adult population (double dose), but has decided to ease the vaccine needs of Nepal.

The government yesterday sent 230,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Nepal. This was following a request from the Nepalese government seeking vaccine support from Bhutan.

With support from donor countries, including Denmark, Bulgaria, and Croatia, the government managed to secure some 400,000 plus doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for the second mass vaccination campaign last month.

However, with the approval of the mix-and-match mode of the vaccination and because of the evidence of higher efficacy with this regime, the majority of the adult population opted for the Moderna vaccine for the second dose.

Bhutan received 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine from the United States.

The government then had surplus AstraZeneca vaccine as it was not recommended for children below the age of 17 years. With the vaccine nearing its expiry date, the government decided to give it to Nepal, a country struggling with the second wave of the pandemic.

A senior official from the foreign ministry said that the 230,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine was given to Nepal on a condition that Nepal would return the support when Bhutan is in need of the vaccines.

The official said that it was a condition set by Nepal when the country sought Bhutan’s assistance for 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this week.

While Kuensel could not confirm the exact number of doses and the type of vaccines that Nepal would have to reciprocate at a later date, officials said that it would probably be the same quantity of vaccine of the same brand.

Nepal Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, in a tweet thanked His Majesty The King and Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering for the ‘friendly gesture’ in helping Nepal’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nepal plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for its elderly population. Around 1.4 million (M) people aged 65 and above in Nepal have received their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Nepalese government is also expecting some 1.6M AstraZeneca doses from Japan.

In the meantime, preparations to secure mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) to cover children between the age of 12 and 17 years are underway. A senior government official said that discussions were at an advanced stage.

“With His Majesty’s guidance and the government’s relentless effort to secure the vaccines, there is no way that we would not get the vaccines. We will definitely get vaccines for our children at the right time,” he said.

The National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group has recommended a 4 to 8 weeks gap after the first dose for children.

The official added that having the health minister as the World Health Assembly’s President made things much easier in securing the Covid-19 vaccines. “We are on the right track to be the first country in the world to vaccinate the majority of our population including our children.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk