To take the shot or not, however, is a personal choice

Yangchen C Rinzin

Getting seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine shot is not mandatory if one does not want to, but the health ministry recommends because it is safe and is advised for people at high risk for flu complications.

The mass vaccination programme began from December 7 and go until January 7 next year.

Senior programme officer with the public health department, Sangay Phuntsho, said it was important to get flu shot because flu symptoms were similar to that of the Covid-19’s.

“With many confusing and with similar symptoms, hospital visit would shoot up which would be a double burden on the health care system,” he said. “The flu shot is not to prevent or cure Covid-19.”

Many people have raised concerns that getting the flu shot might weaken their immunity which could necessitate them to get flu shot every year. Some did not want to get the vaccination.

Bhutanese living abroad have joined the debate saying they are having to pay for the vaccine and that those in Bhutan should consider themselves lucky for getting the vaccine free.

A mother of one, Karma Choden, decided not to get the flu shot because she believes her immunity is already strong.

Sangay Phuntsho said that the misconception among the general public was that the vaccine has side effects and one will have to take the shot every year.

“It was ok not to get the vaccine but we recommend it, especially to those falling in the high risk,” he said, adding that seasonal flu vaccine is only for one particular season, which is protective only for that season.

Vaccine type, he said, could change next season based on the serotype prevalence and the vaccine that is administered this year may not be effective next year. “The vaccine is to boost our immunity and to prevent ourselves from getting flu.”

The ministry had administered flu vaccines to 83,700 people as of December 5.

Those who got the vaccination in October and November need not come for vaccine this time. 

Doctors Kuensel talked to said the protection provided by a flu vaccine varied from season to season and depended in part on the age and health status of person getting the vaccine and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation.

“That a person’s immune system weakens by the flu vaccine is not true,” a doctor said.

There have been complaints from some who had taken the flu shot that they got flu even after taking the vaccine shot. Some complained of adverse reaction such as dizziness, mild fever and headache.

However, the health ministry has not received any adverse reactions report so far.

Sangay Phuntsho said that there would be certain common mild effects of flu vaccine and symptoms are self-limiting, meaning it will depend from person to person or could be coincidental.

“The reaction normally takes place 30 minutes or two days after the shot. It doesn’t last long,” he said. “The flu shot doesn’t guarantee 100 percent protection from the flu. Some might still get flu, but the severity of flu will be less.”

To observe the side effects of any vaccine, an adverse reaction reporting system is already in place. All the 80 vaccination stations have emergency kits in place.

According to Sangay Phuntsho, the GC Flu Multi-Injection vaccine that Bhutan uses is a WHO pre-qualified vaccine produced by South Korea’s Green Cross Republic.

The procurement of vaccine is carried out through UNICEF to ensure safety after WHO qualifies the vaccine.

The ministry spent around Nu 114 million to procure the vaccines.