PM says the govt. is hopeful to begin the second dose in the next four weeks

As the country enters week-nine after the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign began, many are anxious as to whether the second dose of the vaccine would be made available within the stipulated time.

For the AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine, the recommended gap between the two doses is 8-12 weeks as per the World Health Organsiation (WHO). Based on the recommendation, the government should begin distributing the booster dose by this week.

However, going by the current scenario, it would be too early for the Bhutanese to roll up their sleeves for the second dose of the vaccine.

So far, there has been no confirmation as to when the second dose of vaccine would arrive in the country or when the vaccination could begin.

Sharing the same concern, Chumey-Ura Member of Parliament (MP), Karma Wangchuk, questioned the prime minister on the government’s preparation and plan on the vaccination at the National Assembly yesterday.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that India had assured their support for the second dose of the vaccination. However, he added that it would be discourteous to pressure the Indian government given its current situation.

He said that one of the largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Serum Institute of India (SII), currently produced some 70 to 80 million (M) doses of the vaccine every month. However, the local demand in India was more than 800M doses.

“Given the good relation between the two countries, we are confident that we would receive the vaccines,” Lyonchhen said. “We are hopeful that in the next four weeks we can vaccinate all the 526,000 eligible population in the country.”

For this, the prime minister said that the government was in discussion with 15 other countries including Israel for Pfizer, Russia for their Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine and America.

Lyonchhen said that Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo who is currently attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, as its president is also exploring means to secure some vaccines for the country. Lyonpo is also meeting with the Director General of the WHO in the next two days where discussion for vaccines is one of the many agendas of the meeting.


The implication

The SII in a recent media statement highlighted that all the vaccines the institute would be producing for the rest of the year will be used for domestic needs.

“Going ahead, 50 percent of our capacities will be served to the Government of India’s vaccination programme, and the remaining 50 percent will be for the state governments and private hospitals,” SII stated.

With a likelihood of delay in the delivery of the second dose, many are concerned as to whether the first dose of the vaccine would become ineffective.

However, experts say otherwise.

Member of the national immunization technical advisory group (NI-TAG), Dr Sonam Wangchuk, said that a delay for the second dose by a few weeks would not have any implication. “In fact, immunologically, the longer the duration between the two doses, the better the immune response.”

He said that while the plan was still to provide the booster dose between 8-12 weeks after the first priming dose, there was emerging evidence where some countries including India had extended the gap to 16 weeks.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that for the AstraZeneca vaccine, the efficacy of the first dose was around 76 percent. “With the booster dose, the efficacy is around 81 percent. This means that even without the booster dose, people would have developed adequate levels of antibodies.”

He said that a booster dose was important for some individuals who would not have developed adequate levels of antibodies from the first such as people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“Therefore, a delay by a few weeks should not be an issue for us. This is also because we have already achieved a high level of coverage in the first round, meaning that the majority of the population have received the first dose, thereby, developing antibodies.”

Lyonchhen said that about 95 percent of the eligible population in the country had already received the first dose.

Meanwhile, the vaccination programme (first dose) is still continuing today as new individuals become eligible every day. This includes people turning 18 years old, those who were in quarantine during the vaccination campaign, and the deferred cases (medical conditions).

By Younten Tshedup

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk