All 613, who switched to Moderna vaccine for the second dose, are fine says Sowai Lyonpo 

Younten Tshedup  

Three days ahead of the nationwide rollout of the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine, 613 people received their booster dose in a heterologous (mix-and-match) approach on July 17.

According to the health ministry, the event was conducted as a part of public sensitisation. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Speaker and some members of the National Assembly, senior government officials, and individuals between 88 to 18 years received Moderna vaccine for their second dose.

Health officials said that no major side effects were recorded as of yesterday. Two ‘minor’ AEFI (adverse events following immunization or side effects), dizziness and itching around the injection site, were reported on the first day of the ‘test dose’.

However, given a large number of people receiving the vaccine ‘voluntarily’, many took to social media to question the rationale of conducting such an event with so many volunteers.

“We would have also volunteered had we known they would entertain so many people,” wrote one.

“The government has already said there is an option for us to choose the vaccine. Why are they so focused on convincing people to get the Moderna vaccine now?” expressed another.

Health officials said that the test dose was conducted taking in a representative population sample of diverse age groups including those with existing medical conditions to study any possible side effects.

Following the vaccination, Lyonchhen said that it was an opportunity for him to protect himself and the community. “We know how the Delta variant has now engulfed the whole world. There are temporary solutions through non-pharmacological interventions but the only solution, in the long run, is through vaccination.”

As a medical practitioner, Lyonchhen said that of the many vaccines that have been introduced in Bhutan over the years, Covid-19 vaccines were one of the safest and most thoroughly studied vaccines.


The rollout plan

Technically, the nationwide rollout of the second dose will begin tomorrow (July 20). Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the modality would be similar to the first nationwide campaign which is for a duration of one week — July 20 to 26.

All those residing in Bhutan, 18 years old and above, who completed a minimum of eight weeks from the first dose will be eligible for the second dose in either homologous or heterologous regimes.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that although there is an option to select between the types of vaccines, people should opt for Moderna given its high efficacy.  

It was learnt that vaccination in urban areas would be based on the zoning system where de-suups would facilitate the mobilisation of people to the identified vaccination centres.

In Rural areas, local leaders and the dzongkhag task force would mobilise people and identify the vaccination centres. Local authorities would identify sites to be used as vaccination centres with adequate facilities to ensure 30 minutes of observation following the vaccination.

Vaccination in the high-risk areas and in places that are under lockdown would be implemented as per the protocol for the high-risk areas or lockdown situation (surveillance testing strategy). Lyonpo said that a mass-screening test would be conducted in the high-risk areas before rolling out the vaccination campaign in these areas. 

Home-based vaccination services would also be provided to those who cannot walk or are bedridden after the seven-day nationwide campaign.

Meanwhile, if a positive case is detected in a vaccinated individual or any individual in the locality during the vaccination campaign, vaccination at the locality will be immediately suspended. A 72-hour blackout period will be enforced for that locality whether zone, mega zone, in the town or village.

Following the risk assessment and vaccination would resume only once the situation improves in the locality.

Lyonpo urged people to follow all existing Covid-19 protocols while coming to get the vaccines. “We encourage people to get the vaccines from their respective zones or mega zones.” 

Edited by Tshering Palden