Bhutan to be among the first to get Covid-19 vaccine

Experts emphasise on preventive measures   

Younten Tshedup  

Several potential Covid-19 vaccines have made significant progress in the last few weeks, raising hopes.

As per World Health Organisation (WHO) records, over 200 vaccine candidates are being developed of which more than 10 are currently under human trials.

As countries across the world are making efforts to get a share of the vaccine, Bhutan registered her interest to be among the first to avail it.

Clinical microbiologist with the national referral hospital Dr Tshokey said that typically any vaccine would require a minimum of 10 years of research and testing before reaching the clinic.

However, in the case of Covid-19, he said that scientists are racing to produce a safe and effective vaccine at the earliest.

Many including the Chinese and Oxford scientists have said that a vaccine would be made available by the end of the year or by next year.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the accessibility and availability of a vaccine would be contingent upon when the vaccine would come out. “If a vaccine does come out, the ministry is doing all it can to get it.”

Lyonpo said that the government as a member of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) has reached out to the international body and other organisations including the WHO expressing the country’s interest.

The ministry has also developed a protocol prioritising who would receive the initial dose if the country gets a limited amount.

As per the protocol, the initial recipient of the vaccine would be the high-risk groups – children, pregnant mothers, elderly, health workers and people with comorbidities.

WHO country representative Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus said that efforts to produce an effective and safe Covid-19 vaccine are underway across the world.

He said that WHO, through a global collaboration initiative – Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – is working with GAVI and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations  (CEPI) on a proposal for a fair and equal allocation mechanism.

Dr Rui said that WHO is collaborating with CEPI and GAVI on a mechanism – COVAX facility, which is designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines worldwide.

“COVAX facility works to maximize the development, equitable access and fair allocation across all countries,” he said. “It aims to deliver two billion doses globally for high-risk populations, including one billion which will be purchased for low- and middle-income countries.”

He said that WHO is working with its partners to expedite vaccine testing and scale-up of manufacturing to enable countries to have access to sufficient doses if and when a vaccine is available. “Globally, investments are being made in the manufacturing of promising vaccine candidates even before the phase III trial results are in.”

However, Dr Rui said that there are still many unknowns in this process. “It is hoped that if a successful vaccine is found by the end of the year, there will be enough doses available for countries in 2021 so that those in priority populations, who choose to be vaccinated, have access to them.”

Dr Tshokey said that of the several vaccine candidates there are currently two potential vaccines under trial. However, for the vaccines to be approved and licensed by the WHO would take a while, he added.

“There would still be uncertainties even if a vaccine is approved. When would it reach us, how much would we get and also for how long the vaccine would protect a person.”

The microbiologist said that because Covid-19 is a new virus many things are unknown about the behaviour of the virus.

Amidst the uncertainties, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the only certain and proven thing is to follow the public health measures such as maintaining physical distance, regularly washing hands and wearing face masks.

She said that these are scientifically proven measures which if practised would prevent individuals from getting the virus.

“If you’re infected, it would prevent others from getting the virus besides enabling early intervention.”

The minister said that the choice has always been with the individuals. “While we’ve been discussing enforcement, I personally feel that as a compassionate society we should not have kudrungs. It should be our gyenkhu.”

She said, “Taking individual responsibility to combat the pandemic is crucial. Ultimately to me this is serving the nation. This is answering the call of the nation.”

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