Government closely following developments, says existing vaccination plan will not change

Younten Tshedup 

Despite several countries suspending the use of AstraZeneca vaccine over reports of blood clots, the government’s decision on mass rollout of vaccines in the country will not change.

Chidrel Lyonpo (foreign minister) Dr Tandi Dorji said that, although some countries have held up the vaccination programme following reports of blood clots, he said that there was no scientific evidence to establish the link between the reaction and vaccination yet.

“These countries have temporarily held the vaccination to conduct studies and find a possible link. They haven’t said that they’d stop using the vaccine hereafter.”

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) was closely following developments around the vaccine and its possible adverse effects.

The vaccine that Bhutan intends to roll out to the masses is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by India’s Serum Institute under the name Covishield through technology transfer.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that, if the blood clot and associated deaths are scientifically linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine,  the World Health Organisation (WHO) would immediately make some announcements.  The WHO approved the emergency use of AstraZeneca vaccine in January.

“For now, we think it must be a coincidence that these issues have surfaced following the vaccination in some countries,” said Lyonpo. “But this is an opportunity for us to observe before we begin our own rollout.”

Global indications  

Thailand yesterday announced that they are delaying the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine over the blood clot fears reported in Europe.

Thailand’s prime minister was due to kick off the country’s vaccination drive by getting the vaccine yesterday.  The delay comes after a number of countries, including Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, suspended the use of the jab on Thursday.

Italy and Austria also stopped using certain batches of the vaccine as a ‘precautionary measure’.  The suspensions in Italy and Austria involve different batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Luxembourg have also suspended the use of the same batch as Austria.  Romania has suspended use of 4,200 doses from the same batch of vaccines as Italy.

According to international media reports, Denmark’s decision was a ‘precautionary measure’ while a full investigation was underway following reports of blood clots in people who received the vaccine, including one case in Denmark where a person died.

Italy’s medicines body had also said that the decision was ‘precautionary’, adding that no link had been established between the vaccine and subsequent serious adverse events.

Around five million Europeans have already received the AstraZeneca vaccine with some 30 cases of thromboembolic events — developing blood clots after vaccination — reported.

The European Medicines Agency on Thursday said that currently there was no indication that vaccination has caused the blood clots, which was not listed as a side effect with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered while investigation of cases of thromboembolic events is ongoing,” it added.


Can Bhutan wait?  

While the country still awaits additional doses of vaccine before rolling it out to the public, all these incidences give the country more reason to wait and observe.

Local experts in the country say that because the pandemic situation in Bhutan was not as grave as in some other countries, it was advisable to wait for more evidence to come in.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that there still was no confirmation on the arrival of additional doses of vaccine from India as of last night. “The demand for vaccines in India is already high. It would now depend on the Indian government as to when we would receive our additional doses.”

However, he said that the mass rollout would ‘definitely’ begin before the end of the month (March).