Nima Wangdi

Iron Female Ox year-Covid -19: The Female Ox ploughed throughout the year with all her strength and determination, but the coronavirus mutated several times and caused confused responses.

When the rat retired to its burrow, Bhutan only had about 860 people infected with the virus and one death. As the year ended, the country recorded 13,846 cases as of March 3 this year and six deaths. The daily cases spiked to 500 at times.

The year saw Bhutan receiving vaccines as aid, mainly from India and other countries.

Although India had promised to help Bhutan with more vaccines in the later days, they could not do so since there was a sudden surge in the number of daily cases in their own country. Bhutan reached out to other countries for help.


The first vaccination campaign

Bhutan made headlines in international media when it became one of the first countries to administer the first dose of the vaccine.

With more than 500,000 doses of vaccines received from India, Bhutan rolled out vaccines in March last year in a mass campaign mode and 533,558 people were vaccinated in a weeklong campaign.

We also received 5,850 doses of Pfizer vaccines from New York in May, which was reserved for the children as it was only the vaccine that the World Health Organization had certified for the children who are 16 years and above then.

The government also ordered some 200,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine from Pfizer Inc., the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation.

In the second batch of vaccines through the COVAX facility, USA again gave 500,000 doses of Moderna. Denmark provided 250,000 doses; Croatia, Bulgaria and a few other countries gave over 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca. People’s Republic of China also gave 50,000 dose of Sinopharm.


The second dose of mix and match

Bhutan missed the initial eight -12 weeks deadline for the second dose after the first as the government could not get vaccines as expected. However, government said there is increasing scientific evidences that say that the gap between the two doses could stretch to 16-20 weeks.

The second dose was administered in July. Since all the people had received AstraZeneca for the first dose, National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) recommended mix and match. Under this model, people were allowed to mix vaccines.

NI-TAG members said that in the wake of the fast-spreading Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, heterologous regime (mixing of vaccines) of vaccination was found to be more effective.

We even shared 230,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Nepal after vaccinating 90 percent of the eligible population for the vaccine.

Vaccinating children aged 12-17

With the Drug Regulatory Authority approving the emergency use of Moderna vaccine for the children aged 12-17, vaccine was rolled out starting in July.

Since Moderna was the second vaccine that was approved for use in children for this particular age group, health ministry, upon the recommendation of the NITAG, stopped administering Moderna vaccine to the adult population. There were about 50,000 doses of Moderna vaccines left.

Since the vaccine for the children was rolled out according to the risk of places they live in, the 5,000 doses of Pfizer had already been administered to the children in Phuntsholing and Samtse, the two high-risk areas then.

While children in the two high-risk areas received the second dose, children in other dzongkhags also received first and second doses on different dates depending on the risk type of the place they lived.

Booster dose  rollout

With the threat of widespread community transmission looming, booster dose was administered to have better protection against the virus.

Booster dose to the priority population started in December. People aged 65 and above, with underlying medical conditions, living in the high-risk areas, children and frontline workers are considered priority population.

It gradually was rolled out to the general public in all the 20 dzongkhags.

The female Ox retired with the Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering, addressing the nation from Gelephu that there will have no lockdowns when we have community cases hereafter.

He, however, claimed that there will be strict lockdowns when Covid-19 patient hospitalisation reaches the hospital bed occupancy threshold and emergence of lethal variants in the future.