Phub Dem and Younten Tshedup  

The government will roll out the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccines from July 20.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo confirmed the rollout date after the arrival of the 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccines at the Paro international airport yesterday.

The vaccines were gifted by the US government through the COVAX Facility.

At around 4:50pm yesterday, a chartered flight landed at the Paro international airport with the vaccine.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, UNICEF representative Dr Will Parks, Foreign Secretary Kinga Singye, and other officials received the vaccines at the airport.

It was learnt that another consignment of 120,000 plus doses of AstraZeneca vaccines given by Denmark will arrive in the country  today.

The remaining doses, from the 250,000 promised by the Danish government, are expected to arrive in the country sometime next week.

Lyonpo said that logistics were arranged as per the projected population of the country and that in the next six days vaccines would be distributed to all the dzongkhags.

She said that vaccines would be airlifted where it was impossible to be conveyed by land.

According to a press release from the US Embassy & Consulate in India, the vaccines were donated by the US government and the American people as a part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s global efforts to end the Covid-19 pandemic.   

Chargé d’Affaires, Ambassador Atul Keshap, said: “The United States is proud of our long-standing friendship with Bhutan and its people. Supporting Bhutan’s efforts to provide safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to its people demonstrates the United States’ leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.”

Following the arrival of the Moderna vaccines, many are questioning whether the government would mix the vaccine for the second dose.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that given the promising evidence on heterologous (mixing of vaccines) vaccination trials globally, Bhutan was exploring the possibilities of mixing the vaccines.

About 95 percent of the eligible population in the country received Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccine during the first dose in March earlier this year.

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines are viral vector-type, while both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) has also recommended the mix-and-match method of vaccination. However, the decision as to whether to go ahead with the heterologous method of vaccination is yet to be decided.

The health ministry will roll out a sensitisation programme for the community to educate people, especially on the side effects and benefits of the Moderna vaccine from today.

Lyonpo urged every eligible population to participate in the vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity.

She added that most people in other countries were facing difficulty in getting vaccinated. “It is His Majesty’s blessing that we have vaccines for the whole population.”

The UNICEF office in Bhutan is facilitating the transhipment of vaccines to Bhutan.

UNICEF representative, Dr Will Parks, said that the office had to organise a chartered flight from Kentucky to Paro to bring in the vaccines.

He said that Bhutan would receive another consignment of AstraZeneca vaccines from Denmark today and more vaccines from other countries in the coming weeks.

“Other countries would learn a lot from Bhutan, and the success story of the tiny nation will be a beacon of hope for many,” he said.

The arrival of the Moderna vaccines yesterday was the latest example of the United States’ efforts to support Bhutan in the fight against the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US government has provided Bhutan with more than USD 1 million to strengthen the country’s healthcare system, contributed technical assistance to increase laboratory testing capacity.

In addition, the US government provided essential health equipment to Bhutan, including 110 oxygen cylinders, more than 17,000 N95 masks, medical machinery and vehicles, and 15 state-of-the-art ventilators that are being used in various hospitals across the country.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk