Younten Tshedup 

Some 4,600 children aged between 12 and 17 years in Phuentsholing and Samtse will receive their second dose of Covid-19 vaccine this week.

They received the Pfizer vaccine for the first dose between July 22 and 23.

National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) member, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that these children would be given the Moderna vaccine as their second dose in a heterologous regime.

This, he said, was because of the shortage of Pfizer vaccine in the country.

Bhutan received 5,850 doses of Pfizer vaccine through the COVAX Facility in May, earlier this year. Majority of the vaccine was used to inoculate children in Phuentsholing and Samtse during the second nationwide vaccination campaign.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the interchangeability of the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) was now recommended. Currently, only Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have received the emergency use authorisation in children between the age of 12 and 17 years from WHO.

According to sources, close to 2,100 children in Samtse and more than 2,400 children in Phuentsholing will receive the second dose of the vaccine this time. Almost 800 children from the Phuentsholing cohort, who have moved to their new school in Punakha, will receive their vaccination in Punakha while in the quarantine facilities.

In the meantime, close to 58,000 children in 13 dzongkhags, between the age of 12 and 17 years, have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to date.   

As per the National Statistics Bureau’s (NSB) adjusted projected population for 2021, Bhutan has 75,960 children aged 12 and 17 years.

Health officials said that the second dose of vaccine for the children in 13 dzongkhags, and first dose for the remaining seven dzongkhags was likely to begin towards the end of September.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that should the vaccines arrive by then, it would be within the four to eight week gap the NI-TAG had recommended for the two doses for children.

The government has been seeking additional vaccine support from the United States. Besides placing an order for 200,000 doses of Pfizer, the government has also requested the US for about 145,000 doses of Moderna vaccine.

Officials said that either of the two vaccines could arrive towards the end of September.

“Whichever vaccine arrives first, we can go ahead and cover children between 12 and 17 years. This would then add to the total vaccine coverage and help us move closer to achieving herd immunity,” said an official.

With about 30 percent of the total population below 18 years, for Bhutan to achieve herd immunity or a vaccination coverage of at least 80 percent of the entire population, vaccinating children remains crucial.

Edited by Tshering Palden