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COVAX likely to dispatch 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine by August 

Younten Tshedup  

As the country enters week-13 after the seven-day nationwide vaccination campaign, efforts are on to secure the second dose.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the government was in consultation with 18 countries to get the vaccines as soon as possible. “We are doing everything possible to secure vaccines so that we can roll out the second dose for those in the country.”

During her recent visit to Geneva, Switzerland, at the sidelines of the World Health Assembly, Lyonpo met with several world dignitaries on matters of global health concerns. Of the many topics discussed during the meetings, she said that securing vaccines for the second dose was one of the priorities.

Among the list of global health leaders, Lyonpo met representatives from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and the health minister of Switzerland, Alain Berset.

Lyonpo said that after communicating the support Bhutan needed to roll out its second round of the Covid-19 vaccination, the leaders assured their assistance.

In the meantime, as per a news release on June 21, the White House announced that the US government was allocating 55 million (M) doses from America’s own vaccine supply in an effort to end the pandemic globally.   

After missing the list of countries to receive the first 25M doses, Bhutan has been identified as one of the beneficiaries of these vaccines from the US through the COVAX Facility.

Approximately 16 million doses have been allocated for Asia as per the news release from the White House for countries including Bhutan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, among others.

Kuensel learnt that earlier this month, the health ministry had received a letter from the COVAX Facility confirming the allocation of 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca for Bhutan.

The facility has asked the ministry to complete all preparations before the vaccines are dispatched, tentatively by August, 2021.

Should the consignment reach the country on time, Bhutan would have around 169,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines by August including 61,000 doses leftover from the first round. However, the vaccines still would not be enough for a nationwide rollout.

But the government has plans to vaccinate the residents of high-risk areas, if in case, it cannot secure enough vaccines to roll out a nationwide campaign for the second dose.

Chidrel Lyonpo (foreign minister) Dr Tandi Dorji recently said that around 72,753 doses would be required to vaccinate people living along the border areas.

Meanwhile, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that besides the COVAX Facility, government was also in touch with the US and other 17 countries to procure vaccines bilaterally.

“We can proceed with our discussion only after the US government receives clearance for AstraZeneca vaccine from FDA. For now, they have received FDA clearance for only two vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna,” Lyonpo said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the public regulatory agency in the US.

Bhutan had placed a request more than two months ago with the US for around half a million doses especially as India announced a ban on export of its vaccines after it was hit by a huge second wave.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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