India launched one of the world’s biggest Covid vaccination drive on January 16 with the aim to inoculate 30 million health and frontline workers. By mid this year, India plans to vaccinate 300 million more people. India is home to 1.3 billion people and the vaccination drive to cover the entire population is going to be anything but easy. Yet, the Modi government has taken on this challenge as an opportunity to showcase India’s capabilities as an emerging superpower.
For a small neighbour watching developments in India, the historic roll out of the Covid vaccination programme offers a reason to be optimistic during this long period of humanitarian crisis. In fact, following the approval of the vaccines developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, many developed countries, including the United States, the UK, and other European nations have also launched Covid vaccination programmes. More Covid vaccines are being developed and are in different stages of trial. All these provide new hopes for humanity.
Yet, as the world grapples with the dire consequences of the health and economic crisis unleashed by the Coronavirus pandemic, every country in the world is scrambling to get Covid vaccines for its people. The entire world is pinning its hope on Covid vaccines to fight the lethal virus and restore normalcy. The pandemic has already taken around two million lives and the death toll is likely to increase with the second wave of the pandemic hitting many countries and the resurgence of new variants of the Coronavirus.
Powerful countries with economic might and financial resources are obviously on the forefront of this global rush to access the vaccines for its own people. This ‘my nation first’ vaccine politics is fuelling and spreading a vicious brand of ‘vaccine nationalism’ across the world, which will certainly have a lasting impact on the way the world fights this pandemic and eventually comes out of it.
Low-income, developing countries such as Bhutan will be left behind in this global race, further heightening our vulnerabilities to the multifaceted impacts of Covid-19. Inequitable supply and distribution of vaccines – driven by competing priorities of developed and powerful countries – will have far-reaching impacts on poorer nations. The delay in supply of vaccines will only worsen the cumulating impacts of the virus on social institutions, healthcare systems, and the economy of poor, developing nations – triggering mass poverty, income loss, and unemployment – and reverse all the development gains that we have made thus far.
While the government is already in talks with global agencies responsible for supply and distribution of Vivid vaccines such as WHO, it appears that getting the vaccine is going to take much longer than expected considering the current global realities. The government has also requested the Indian government for one million doses of Covid vaccine. While the response from the Indian government has been positive and reassuring – thanks to the deep friendship and bilateral ties between the two countries – there is no clear indication when Bhutan will actually receive the vaccines.
What is crystal clear is the fact that we will have to wait. For how long? We really don’t know. No information has been shared as to when Bhutan will be able to get the vaccines. All that we have been told is that the process to acquire the vaccines has begun in earnest, so rest assured!
What can possibly happen during the intervening period between now and the time Bhutan gets the Covid vaccine? If we are conscientious in our response to preventing and managing Covid-19 cases in the country, there will be little to worry about. And for that, we will have to leverage the advantages provided by our small population, a strong healthcare system, an agile Covid-19 response mechanism, stringent application of Covid protocols, and our collective aspiration to combat the virus.
Despite the stringent measures taken, there have been lapses and loopholes and it is imperative that we address those issues. A lesson that we need to draw from this pandemic is that we are in it together. We must understand our unique vulnerabilities and challenges as a nation. That is exactly why from day one His Majesty The King has repeatedly emphasised on why we must be extra-careful and remain vigilant all the time and why we cannot afford to let our guards down ever.
What we have experienced during the two national lockdowns should provide sufficient lessons to avert, if not smartly tackle, local transmissions in the future. Until a time the government is able to procure Covid vaccines, our best bet is to work towards preventing community transmission and future lockdowns that have a crippling effect on the health, the economy and the livelihoods of the people.
Contributed by Kinley Tshering
A former newspaper editor, the writer is a multi-media professional, screenwriter and filmmaker