Bhutan could have Moderna vaccines within weeks

Younten Tshedup  

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the second dose of Covid-19 vaccination would be given before the end of the 16th week after the first dose.

This means that the second round of a nationwide vaccination campaign will begin before the end of this month.

Lyonchhen said that although the initial gap between the two doses were between 8 to 12 weeks, research conducted by Oxford University found that the gap could be extended up to 16th week.

“We tried to roll out the second mass vaccination within the 12 weeks but could not get the vaccine because the vaccines were short in supply,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that the government was in consultation with 17 countries to secure the second booster dose for the entire eligible population.   

Denmark on July 1 announced that it would donate 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Bhutan at the earliest possible.

He said: “We have requested donor countries to give us vaccines within the 16-week period and many have agreed to deliver within the stipulated time at any cost. Denmark has agreed and I’m hopeful that other countries will also come forward in a few days’ time.”

The prime minister said that the government was expecting about 350,000 doses from the European countries.

More vaccines on the way

Lyonchhen said that the government was also considering the mix-and-match  vaccination, especially with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

He said that the government had a purchase deal with the manufacturer of Pfitzer vaccine from where an order for more than 200,000 doses is in place. “We bought the vaccines at USD 6 per dose. They said they can deliver it by the end of this year, but we are requesting them to make it sooner.”

With evidence now showing that Pfizer vaccines were usable among children above the age of 12 years, Lyonchhen said that securing Pfizer doses could be used to vaccinate children in the country.

He said that even Moderna was seeking approval from the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use their vaccines in children above 12 years. “I’m sure the approval will come through anytime now.”

While the government is exploring all possible vaccines, Lyonchhen said that the chances of the Moderna vaccine arriving early were high. He said that this was because of His Majesty The King’s leadership and the country’s success in delivering the first dose of the vaccine to all its eligible population.

He said that in one of the conversations with officials from Moderna, the US-based company said that Bhutan had the right leadership and institutional capacity and the country had great potential to use the vaccines wisely.

“So, they are willing to help us and have asked for a few weeks, which was about a week ago. One week is gone. We are hopeful that in the next one week or so the vaccines will arrive,” said Lyonchhen, adding that the government had agreed to share data with the company on how their vaccines reacted with the Bhutanese gene. “For now, I’m not sure about the numbers but I’m 100 percent sure that we will get the vaccine.”

In the meantime, the first allocation of the millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses donated by the US government to the COVAX Facility has been delivered to South Asia.

UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia, George Laryea-Adjei acknowledged the arrival of the vaccines yesterday. “I am heartened to see the first of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines donated by the United States Government arrive in South Asia, a region devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and where 1.5 billion people still remain unvaccinated.”

Kuensel learnt that Bhutan is one of the recipients of these doses from the COVAX Facility, which is expected to be disbursed at the earliest.

Lyonchhen said that as soon as the vaccines arrive, the government would cover over 85 percent of the eligible population with the second dose within 10 days in order to achieve herd immunity. “Following the second dose, if the immunity coverage is more than 80 percent, we can then relax some of our protocols.”

He added that India has been forthcoming in helping the country to secure its second dose. “However, given India’s current situation, His Majesty has said that they need the vaccines more than us for now,” he said.

Edited by Tshering Palden