Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo participates in a vaccination mock drill yesterday

Nationwide vaccination campaign against Covid-19 begins today  

Younten Tshedup  

By the end of next week, Bhutan could become the first country in the world to administer the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine to all its eligible population, estimated at 533,558.

The mass rollout of the Indian made Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccines will begin today, with Ninda Dema receiving the first jab at 9:30am in Thimphu.  Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering will receive his first jab at 9:40am while at the quarantine centre.

About 57 relatives of the prime minister, including his parents, wife, and in-laws will also receive the vaccine at the Lungtenzampa middle secondary school.  They will be followed by Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo and Chidrel Lyonpo (foreign minister) Dr Tandi Dorji.

Simultaneously, other cabinet ministers will be vaccinated at the Jigme Namgyel lower secondary school in Thimphu.  Finance Minister Namgay Tshering and Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji will receive their jabs in Paro and Trongsa respectively.

At around 10am vaccination centres across the country will start the vaccination programme for the public.

Bhutan and the vaccine story 

Despite the global demand for vaccines, Bhutan received its first batch of Covishield vaccine (150,000 doses) on January 20 as a gift from the government of India.  The country could have initiated the vaccination, but it opted to wait for more evidence and data on the vaccines.

Unlike other countries where people were vaccinated in a phase-wise manner — the government decided to roll out a nationwide vaccine campaign to reap the maximum benefit of the jab.

The second batch of the vaccine (400,000 doses) from India arrived on March 22, enabling the country to initiate its mass rollout.

Using flights and helicopter services, the government ensured that the vaccines reached all nooks and corners of the country. It took the health ministry only two days to reach the vaccines to all 20 dzongkhags.

The health ministry has identified about 1,200 vaccination sites across the country.  The sites are categorised into 430 clusters manned by a doctor each, besides other health workers and vaccinators, including desuups.

“These sites have been stationed in the remotest places, including Laya, Lunana, Soe, and Naro,” Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said, adding that all safety measures were in place as of last night.

However, she said that the ministry anticipated a few glitches in the system as an event of this magnitude was happening in the country for the first time.

Lyonpo said that, as Bhutan began its vaccination rollout today, it was a historic moment for the country. “I request people to come forward and get vaccinated not just to protect yourself but to protect your communities and the country as a whole. I pray that everything goes well and the programme is a success.”

Besides health and other frontline workers, the clergy played a key role in the build-up to vaccination day.  A three-day Sangay Moenlha drupchen was held at the Paro international airport days before the arrival of the additional doses of vaccine.

As the ministry began distributing the vaccines to other dzongkhags, on the arrival of the vaccines in the respective dzongkhags, the monastic bodies conducted thruesol ceremonies (spiritual cleansing and purification).

thruesol by His Holiness the Je Khenpo in Lhuentse on March 25 marked the completion of the vaccine distribution across the country.

As of midnight, 512,962 individuals had registered for the vaccine.  Going by the number of people, who have opted for the vaccine, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said the country would achieve the required coverage (75 percent) to attain herd immunity. 

Meanwhile, a vaccination mock drill was conducted at the RBP flu clinic in Thimphu yesterday. The health minister assessed the entire process starting from the registration till the recipients finished their 30 minutes mandatory observation period.