The stars are aligned with what many would want in the next few weeks and months concerning protecting all, Bhutanese and foreigners in the country against Covid-19.
After consultation with the central monastic body for an auspicious date to roll out the now all-important programme in decades, the prime minister on Monday announced that mass vaccination could start only after March 13, when the inauspicious month ends.
It might sound strange to some, but the clergy is an indispensable part of the many big decisions we take as individuals and as a country. Even as Bhutan fought, at all fronts, to keep at bay the invisible enemy of Covid-19, we resorted to the omnipotent force. The energy, the confidence and the beliefs had played a crucial role in managing the pandemic, with or without faults. Today, even a four-year-old can recite the “Om Bekha zey” prayer to the medicinal god in seeking help to prevent us from getting infected.
Bhutan could wait. There are several reasons why we can even if some are panicky. Vaccination programmes have rolled out in many countries, including in neighbouring India, the likely source of our vaccine. There are sceptics including health workers who are not willing to take the jab. The vaccine hesitancy arises from the fact that the vaccines rolled out have not completed full trials. Many feel it is better to wait and see if there are adverse events following the vaccination.
The vaccine against Covid-19 is seen as the ultimate solution as many countries, near and far, start vaccinating the entire population starting with health workers and frontliners. However, what we need to understand is that it is not a race. We have all the reasons to wait and see the impact of the vaccine.
Many countries that have resorted to the vaccine even if it is only authorised for emergency use did so because they are overwhelmed with positive cases and deaths. We are not going through it. We are in a lockdown or have community transmissions, but a lot is under control and the situation has improved, which is evident from the relaxation in the red dzongkhags.
Waiting, like the Lyonchhen said, could give us valuable time to learn lessons from the experiences of other countries including the impact of the vaccines. Many countries that have cases, hundred times more than us are also patiently waiting.
The time could also be used to address the vaccine hesitancy both through learning from experiences and resolving controversies or doubts surrounding the vaccine. The health ministry has started a survey on the vaccination programme, which includes questions if people would want to delay receiving the vaccine.
The large rural population would not doubt the Zhung’s programme, but if the government could convince all through hard evidence and build confidence in the vaccines planned in a transparent way, it would help the entire population get vaccinated.
In announcing the plans surrounding the vaccination plan, Lyonchhen asked people not to get scared of the vaccine. Building confidence of the masses is crucial in achieving the vaccination programme.
The Zakar is in our favour and gives us enough time to study, prepare and build confidence. It is the perfect timing. The health ministry must do whatever it takes to make the vaccination programme another national achievement.