Nima Wangdi

Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11 will start by the first week of March, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

He said the vaccines will arrive on February 28.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said the vaccines will be distributed nationwide in the first week of March and the inoculations will start around March 10. “All the children aged five to 11 will be vaccinated in about five days.”

He said the second dose will be rolled out three to four weeks after the first vaccination.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) also called for the registration of children for the vaccines starting on February 21, and there are around 83,000 children aged between 5-11 years in the country.

According to MoH officials, the dosage for children aged 5-11 will be 0.2mL.

Health officials said earlier they had ordered 180,000 doses of Pfizer pediatric vaccine from the Pfizer Company.

“His Majesty the King has instructed us to make the vaccine available at any cost so that the children, who are considered a high-risk population, could be vaccinated,” the Prime Minister said. “The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could jointly manage the vaccine.”

Lyonchhen said the Ministry of Education also wanted to reopen schools in the first week of March but had to defer it until mid-April, which is one week after the second dose.”

He said that in high-risk areas like in Phuentsholing, 90 percent of the population has already received all three doses. “Almost all the Thimphu residents received three doses. The vaccine reduces the severity of the virus.”

He said that His Majesty the King has also instructed the government to keep track of the situations in the countries that have currently lifted mask mandates so that we can also replicate it in our country if they are doing well. “However, some countries are already suffering and unable to accommodate patients in their hospitals. We won’t be able to handle such a situation, given our capacity. Our hospitals are small with a limited number of health workers.”

Lyonchhen said even the addition of about 200 patients will burden our health facilities. “We might have to endure the existing Covid-19 protocols until WHO announces the transition of the pandemic to endemic.”

Lyonchhen also said most of the people who have succumbed to the virus so far mostly had underlying medical conditions, particularly kidney patients. “People say Omicron is mild and it doesn’t kill, but despite our desperate measure to save lives, some still die.”

He said that we have about 100,000 people who are 65 years and older of which about 60,000 are diabetic, suffering from hypertension and heart disease. “About 603 are registered patients on dialysis.”

He said that we also have about 50 cancer patients undergoing regular chemotherapy. “If these people contract the virus, they won’t be able to survive it.”

According to the MoH, 81.1 percent of the eligible population was vaccinated with the first dose and 77.8 percent vaccinated with the second dose in the country. Similarly, 82.5 percent of the eligible population above 18 years of age were vaccinated with booster doses.

In an earlier interview, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that without vaccinating children, it will be difficult to achieve 80 percent herd immunity.

Thimphu went under partial lockdown (with people allowed to move within respective zones) since the early morning of February 22, after detecting some community cases.

However, health officials said they have not fixed the exact dates for the vaccination of children yet.

Officials said they will announce the dates soon.