Jigmi Wangdi

Bhutan has successfully vaccinated 99.6 percent of children under the age of one, an achievement to show that almost all eligible children in the country are now protected from deadly diseases.

In 2022 alone, the immunisation status covering all 20 dzongkhags highlighted that more than 50,000 children have been vaccinated.

In that year, the immunisation drives successfully vaccinated children with antigens such as bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), a vaccine for tuberculosis, MMR1 vaccine which prevents measles, mumps and rubella, OPV 0 and OPV 3 which protects children from poliovirus and DTP-Hep B 3, which defends children from tetanus and hepatitis B, among others.

The immunisation drive was able to vaccinate 9,641 children with BCG, 10,410 with MMR1, 9,236 with OPV 0, 10,413 children with OPV 3, and 10,422 with the DTP-Hep B 3 vaccines.

Health Minister Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that Bhutan first started the immunisation programme in 1979 with the rollout of vaccines for preventing childhood TB, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio.

“As of today, our immunisation coverage stands at over 95 percent at the national level, which resulted in a significant reduction in the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Lyonpo said.

The eradication of rubella in 2023 stands as a testament to Bhutan’s effort to protect children from preventable diseases, Lyonpo added.

“However, challenges remain. There are still pockets in the country where immunisation rates are suboptimal and difficulty in vaccinating hard-to-reach populations and ensuring that no one gets left behind,” Lyonpo said.

UNICEF is a major partner of Bhutan for vaccinating supplied 685,500 vaccines to Bhutan and trained 1,449 healthcare workers and cold chain technicians to handle equipment and vaccinate children.

UNICEF Representative to Bhutan Andrea James, in  a press release stated, that this success is the result of strong commitment from the Royal Government of Bhutan and its partners, who made it a priority to vaccinate children.

“Health workers walked for hours in harsh weather to reach children living in remote and mountainous terrain. Bhutan’s robust network of 51 hospitals, 184 primary health centres and 552 outreach clinics also made it easier to vaccinate children,” Andrea James said.

The UNICEF Representative added that the impact on children is evident owing to the widespread vaccinations over the past 45 years, enabling Bhutan to be rid of diseases such as polio, measles, rubella, and hepatitis, for children below 5 years of age. “Bhutan is now a beacon of hope for other countries and proof that it is humanly possible to reach every child with life-saving vaccines.”

Bhutan is celebrating the World Immunisation Week from April 24 to 30. The theme for this year is ‘humanly possible: saving lives through immunisation’ emphasising the importance of immunisation as protection against many preventable diseases.

This year’s World Immunisation Week also marks the 50th anniversary of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), initiated by the World Health Organisation in May 1974.