Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

March 26, Lunana — Ten in all—four medical staff and six desuups—are travelling day and night, across high mountains in Lunana, Gasa, where the land is still in the grip of icy winter.

They have watertight, heavy-duty Magnum boots on and are dressed to equal the challenges of the desolate and unforgiving mountains.  It’s a long and rough journey and, without porter and pony services, fraught with danger.

But when the nation calls, to back away is not an option.

Since the nationwide vaccination programme began on March 27, a doctor, a nurse, two health assistants and six teachers of Lunana Primary School, all desuups, have been carrying the vaccine, a 16kg oxygen cylinder, regulator, medical equipment and emergency kits on their back.

A day prior, on March 26, at 6:30am, the team began the journey from Lunana primary health centre (PHC) to Thangza and Toenchoe.  The journey takes twelve hours.  The team reached their destination at 6:00pm the same day.

After reaching Toenchoe, the team waited for the vaccination programme to begin in Thimphu.  The first day vaccination programme in Lunana did not see many people, as it is barley plantation season.  The team waited from early morning until 6pm.

The team continued the vaccination programme in the villages on March 28 until 2pm.  By 3:15pm, the team moved to Tshojong village.  Travelling at night amid heavy snowfall, they reached Tshojong at 8:30pm.

After completing vaccination on March 29, the team moved to Lunana PHC the same day.  It took the team four hours to reach there.

Health assistant Karma Tashi is already worried about the most difficult part of the journey, from PHC to Wachey.  It’s a long journey through snow and ice.  The team is expected to reach Wachey on April 1.

“If we don’t travel by night, we won’t be able to complete the vaccination programme on time,” Karma Tashi said. “The terrain is rough and full of challenges, especially at this time.”

After completing the vaccination programme at Wachey on April 2, the team will return to PHC.

All members of the team are tired but in good health. “We’re being extra cautious during the journey. We haven’t faced any issue so far,” a team member said.

What if some people missed the vaccination programme?

The team will have to trek back, which means the programme completion could take more than two weeks.


13 get the jab in Esuna

Thirteen villagers of Esuna village, the furthest village in Lunana, received their doses of the Covishield vaccine on March 29.

From Ramina, it takes five days to reach Esuna.  Heavy snowfall has blocked the way to the village.

The vaccine was delivered through chopper service.

According to Gasa’s health officer, Tashi Norbu, two health officers and a desuup were sent to Esuna as part of the health team.

Dema, 38, from Esuna, said that people were ready and came forward to get the vaccine jab. “We’re really grateful for the vaccine. If not for the helicopter service, we’d have had to travel for more than five days to Ramina.”

Local government officials said that, in Lunana, people have been coming forward for vaccination.

To date, there has not been any issue of major side effects among the vaccine recipients.