MoH hopeful to achieve herd immunity once all eligible children are vaccinated 

Younten Tshedup  

More than 32,600 children aged between 12 and 17 years have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine in the past two days.

The government started vaccinating children in the same age group on July 22. It began from Phuentsholing and Samtse where children were given the Pfizer vaccine.

Following the emergency use approval of the Moderna vaccine for children between 12 and 17 years, children in nine dzongkhags with high-risk populations were identified for the vaccination programme that began on July 29.

The identified dzongkhags are Chukha, Dagana, Samdrupjongkhar, Sarpang, Samtse, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel, Thimphu, and Paro.

Based on the National Statistics Bureau’s (NSB) projected population for 2021, the targeted population in these nine dzongkhags is 49,994 children.  

Thimphu has the largest number with more than 13,000 children followed by Chukha with over 7,000 children.

A student of Chang Rigphel Primary School in Thimphu, Pema Thinley, said that he volunteered to be one of the vaccine recipients to protect himself and his family members from the virus.

“The injection was painful but I took it because my mother told me that I should get it to protect my family and myself,” he said.

A student of Loselling Middle Secondary School in Thimphu, Sangay Choki, said that she was thankful to His Majesty The King and government for protecting the country and the people from Covid-19 pandemic. “Our Prime Minister has said that if we want to win this fight with the virus, we all need to get vaccinated. I came here to do my part today.”

The 13-year-old said that she was afraid of injection but would not mind getting the Covid-19 vaccine for the benefit of the country. “I’m doing this for my King and my country.”

Except for a few minor side effects including headache, fever, and nausea, officials from the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) said that there were no major side effects reported as of last night.

Meanwhile, for the country to achieve the desired herd immunity by vaccinating 80 percent of the entire population, children below 18 years must be inoculated.

As per the NSB’s projected population for 2021, of the 756,129 people in the country, slightly over 533,000 were 18 years and above. Even after vaccinating the entire eligible adult population, the country would fall short by almost 10 percent or 72,000 people, to achieve herd immunity.

Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that as children were more vulnerable to Covid-19, it was a priority for the government to vaccinate all the eligible children, especially in the high-risk areas.

Lyonpo said: “If we can vaccinate all the eligible children, we can achieve the theoretical target of 80 percent coverage to achieve herd immunity.”

With over 80,000 children in this age group, the existing number of Moderna vaccines (50,000 plus) cannot fully cover all the children. For this, the government is actively involved in securing more mRNA vaccines for children.

The two mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — are the only vaccines approved for emergency use in children between the age of 12 and 17 years so far.

The government remains hopeful that additional vaccines would arrive in the country before the second dose is due for children. NI-TAG has recommended the second dose be administered between 4 to 8 weeks after the first dose.

Edited by Tshering Palden