Chimi Dema | Tsirang

About fifty percent of the population in Tsirang couldn’t receive the seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine that the government planned to provide to the general population in anticipation of a second wave of Covid-19 last year.

With growing evidence suggesting that flu vaccines could provide certain protection against Covid-19, the government initiated a mass vaccination programme to vaccinate the entire population in two phases.

The first phase began on October 7 for the high-risk groups. The second phase for the general population commenced from November.

In December last year, Tsirang received 7,200 flu vaccines for its 16,581 people for the second phase of a mass vaccination programme for the general population.

The health sector administered flu vaccines to 6,348 individuals including 5,553 aged between eight to 64 and 1,030 children aged two to eight since December 7. This covered only 45.24 percent of the populations, according to health officials.

More than 400 flu shots were reserved for second dose for high-risk populations, including pregnant mothers and children below the age of two.

The first phase of the programme administered vaccines to 2,324 people of five priority groups: health workers, pregnant mothers, people with comorbidities, elderlies above the age of 65 and children below the age of two in October. Tsirang has 3,206 people in these groups.

The dzongkhag hospital officials said that the requisition of about 16,900 flu vaccines was submitted. “But we received only 7,200 doses,” one said.

Officials said that the vaccines had to be shared among seven Basic Health Units (BHUs) and the hospital.

The hospital had administered vaccines to more than 1,000 individuals including officials and residents in the town as well as people of other nearby gewogs of Rangthaling and Gosarling. “Our initial target was to cover residents of four gewogs but we could cover only four chiwogs given the short supply,” an official said.

A Doonglagang resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said that he has been waiting for the flu shot for almost a month now.

The health assistant in the gewog, Chakra Bahadhur, said that the BHU received only 50 percent of the total requirement. “We initiated the programme with residents in Kherithang chiwog given the decision to vaccinate the entire population.

“However, as we couldn’t receive additional vaccines, we had to prioritise what we had for high-risk groups including health workers, teachers and shop-owners and gewog officials.”

For other  priority groups – elders above 65 years, children under five years, people with comorbidities, and pregnant mothers, Chakra Bahadhur said that the flu shots were given during the first phase in October.

“The second phase covered only 50 percent of the general population,” he said. The gewog has over 1,400 people.

Barshong Gup Santa Lal Powdel said that the vaccines couldn’t cover even half the population in his gewog. There are about 2,900 people in Barshong.

“Given the shortage, I also didn’t take the shot as I felt the high-risk population should be given priority,” the gup said.

In Semjong, people who fall in the high-risk population and school-going children are called and given the flu shots.

The senior health assistant with the BHU, Tashi Norbu  said that about 70 percent of the population in the catchment area were covered. The BHU received around 600 vaccines shots for the second phase.

Senior dzongkhag health officer, Kinley said that the sector hasn’t received any information from the ministry on provision of additional vaccines for the second phase of the mass vaccination programme. “The next might be Covid-19 vaccines.”

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said: “Getting seasonal influenza (flu) vaccine shots is not mandatory if one does not want to, but we have provided.”

On the minimum coverage, he said that individuals might have made a choice not to get it despite the ministry has been advocating and recommending through media platforms.

He said that one dose for the general population was already given towards the end of November, last year. The children below the age of two, however, would be called and given second dose, he said.