… Vaccination for the target population would be completed in a week   

Younten Tshedup

The government will be rolling out the Covid-19 vaccines only after procuring sufficient doses to vaccinate the entire 533,000 eligible population in the country.

Given that the current vaccines are administered in two doses, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that around 1.2 million (M) doses would be required to begin the mass vaccination programme.

Lyonchhen said that the first consignment of the vaccine would be arriving in the country soon. However, unlike the prior plan where individuals and groups were prioritised in a phase-wise manner, he said that in order to better understand the impact of the vaccine and also to cover the entire targeted population at once, the new strategy was being adopted.

He said that administering the first dose for all at the same time enhances the convenience to inject the second dose together. This means that the method ensures the same level of immune protection for all, vaccinated over the same period of time.

He added that the arrangement enables arranging booster doses together when or if required. “This can increase the overall efficacy of the vaccine for the general population, and minimise or blunt any outbreaks, even in the event of a worst-case situation in the post-vaccine era.”

Lyonchhen said that opting to spread the vaccine roll out over months could lead to unsystematic coverage and varying levels of protection for different individuals. He said that this would complicate the follow-up dosages and subsequent boosters if required.

Once the 1.2M doses are procured, the government plans to vaccinate the entire eligible population in a week. For this, individuals responsible to administer the vaccine would be trained in all the communities — dzongkhag, gewog and chiwog levels.

Lyonchhen said that the government was on track with infrastructure and human resource planning for the mass vaccination. It was learnt that once the vaccine administration starts, the movement of people would be stopped for a week.   

The second dose of the vaccine would also be administered in a similar arrangement four weeks after the first.

The prime minister said that the eligible population who would receive the jabs came to roughly over 533,000 people. This is excluding some 250,000 people falling under these three categories — those below the age of 18 years, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

He said that across the world these categories of the population were not recommended to get the Covid-19 jab as the vaccines that are currently in use only had an emergency use authorisation (EUA).

EUA is a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, when it is not possible to have all the evidence required for formal approval of a drug, device or a test.


Which vaccine would Bhutan receive? 

Lyonchhen said the government had consulted the producers of the Pfizer vaccine and that it had agreed to supply over 100,000 doses of the vaccine.

The arrangement with the COVAX Facility and GAVI also ensures vaccines for about 20 percent of the population, he added. However, given the global shortage and high demand for Covid-19 vaccines, he said that no dates were fixed yet.

Lyonchhen said that the Government of India has also expressed solidarity and committed to supporting the country in vaccinating its entire population for free. However, he said that even if the country had to pay for the vaccines, all arrangements were ready.

He said that in the event the government has to pay for the vaccines, the country would be spending about USD 6M. Lyonchhen added that it was likely that India would supply the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being locally manufactured in India under the name Covishield.


Mass vaccination could start only after March 13   

The prime minister added that it was important to roll out the mass vaccination programme on an auspicious date. He said that upon consultation with the central monastic body, it was learnt that dana (inauspicious month) fell between February 14 and March 13.

Therefore, Lyonchhen said that the nationwide vaccination campaign would begin only after the inauspicious month ends. In the meantime, he said that the period would provide some time to learn experiences and lessons from other countries where the vaccination has started, including possible side effects from the vaccines.


Leaving no one  behind 

Lyonchhen said that while the government would make sure all Bhutanese in the country gets the jabs, those living abroad would not be forgotten. He said that His Majesty The King had commanded not to leave out any Bhutanese anywhere in the world.

Lyonchhen said that those living abroad can contact their respective Embassies to get the jab. He said that if the host country is providing the vaccines for free, Bhutanese living there should get themselves vaccinated. “If you are required to pay, the Embassies will facilitate as this is a kidu from His Majesty The King.”