The vaccines are secured. It will reach Bhutan any day now and the much-awaited second dose of vaccine against Covid-19 will be administered. If all the numbers committed arrive and rolled out on time, we have enough to inoculate the entire eligible population.
The coverage in the first round was around 93 percent of the eligible, 472,139 people. The number of eligible people could have increased since March 27. At the same time, many had not received the first dose for various reasons including vaccine hesitancy or ignorance.
With the pandemic still creating havoc, now with the more deadlier Delta variant, in our region and cases surging on a daily basis, vaccines are seen as the only hope. Countries that have vaccinated their people are seeing a lot of restrictions eased. The difference is there to see. For instance, there are two major football competitions going around. The EURO 2020 in Europe and the Copa America in South America. The Wembley stadium in London had 66,000 people cheering for the teams yesterday. Around the same time, there were no spectators in Brazil, a football crazy nation. Vaccination – access or lack of it created the difference.
Despite the delay, the government had managed to arrange the vaccines on time. Since the first dose, the devastation it left behind in our region made people believe in the vaccine as the only protection. The concern until yesterday was if we would be able to vaccinate the entire eligible population on time. It has been more than 14 weeks since the first dose. The lack of clarity on the second dose, until the last minute, concerned many, some even questioning the efficiency of the government.
However, we are not late. Scientists have said that vaccinating within a gap of up to 16 weeks between the first and the second dose was still effective if not strengthened the immunity.
The next big step in our fight against Covid-19, that is fast mutating, is to develop a herd immunity for which, according to the Prime Minister, we need to vaccinate at least 80 percent of the total population. The World Health Organisation supports achieving immunity among the population (herd immunity) through vaccination to stop the spread of the disease and avoid unnecessary deaths.
From the experience of the first round, we could surmise that there are not many vaccines hesitant. The vaccines flown by helicopters to different parts of the country were received like a nangten (relic) prompting some to call it “Vaccine Rinpoche” as monks and dzongkhag officials received it like a Rinpoche at the helipads. It has helped people to understand the importance of getting vaccinated, spiritually, if not medically.
When the government rolls out the second dose, Bhutanese should go out and get vaccinated. If herd immunity can be achieved after a coverage of at least 80 percent, we should go out in numbers. The 65 percent from the first dose of vaccine is not adequate to achieve herd immunity. We should register and help register others who are not aware.
No lives are spared from the impact of the pandemic. We can return to “normal” if we can inoculate the entire eligible population against the disease. There won’t be many who wouldn’t want to be protected against the virus if we understand the importance of vaccination. The government has done its share by securing the vaccines. It is now our responsibility to convince the doubters and create awareness among the ignorant to get registered and get protection against Covid-19.