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… including patients referred outside 

 Younten Tshedup 

While the government is still going for a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the first consignment of vaccine, which arrived on Wednesday, would be used to inoculate Bhutanese travelling abroad including referral patients.

Speaking to Kuensel last night, Lyonpo said that this was being done because the travellers might miss the opportunity later.

He said that some of the selective group of frontline workers such as health workers might also receive the vaccine based on requirements and urgency. “But the plan is to vaccinate all eligible people in Bhutan at a go.”

Although the exact number of the vaccine recipients in this group is not known, the minister said that vaccination would begin as the international flight resumes and people start travelling. “But we’ll have to consult the Zhung Dratsang and fix an auspicious day to start the vaccination.”

Lyonpo said that the government has requested for an additional 400,000 plus doses from India. “If the 400,000 doses arrive tomorrow, we can start the vaccination even before the dana (inauspicious month),” he said. “The first dose will be given before dana and the second after dana because there should be a four to six weeks gap between the two doses.”

He said that the administration of the vaccine would depend on when the next consignment of vaccine would arrive. “We can begin the vaccination as soon as we get all the vaccines. The vaccines will benefit Bhutan only if everyone is vaccinated at the same time.”

 

Safety 

While there are scepticisms surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines, the foreign minister said that he would encourage people to come forward to get vaccinated.

He said the vaccine would reduce the risk of getting the infection and also help in stopping the spread of transmission. “However, it is not compulsory to take the vaccine.”

He said the health ministry will inform, educate, and communicate the benefits of the vaccines, adding that the process has already started.

Lyonpo said that through local government officials, the public will be advised and collect their consents in writing before taking the vaccine.

He said that the cabinet ministers, local leaders, artists in the film industry would all take the jab once the campaign begins. “Hopefully this would convince people that the vaccine is safe,” he said. “We have seen the evidence. There are no serious side effects in the country where people have been vaccinated. India has just vaccinated more than 800,000 of its people and there have been only few cases of side effects, and none of them are serious.”

 

Herd Immunity  

Lyonpo explained that the idea was to achieve herd immunity against the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 through vaccination. However, he said that a sizable number of people including children under 18 years, pregnant and lactating mothers would not receive the vaccine.

“To achieve herd immunity, you need to cover at least 70 percent of the population,” the minister said. There are about 250,000 people who are not eligible for the vaccine this time. “These groups may compromise the idea of herd immunity a little.”

However, he said that the country is targeting to vaccinate some 533,000 people in the country including foreigners who are in the country.  “By doing this, the disease would at least not spread to people who are most vulnerable such as the older population.”

Health officials said mass vaccination would achieve more than the required population to achieve herd immunity. In an earlier interview with Kuensel, members of the technical advisory group have suggested that at least 470,000 Bhutanese have to be covered (infected or vaccinated) to achieve herd immunity.

On conducting a simulation exercise before the mass vaccination begins, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the country had enough experience in conducting mass vaccination. He said that vaccination campaigns including Rubella and the HPV programme against cervical cancer and the recently started flu vaccination programme has prepared health staff on the mass vaccination campaigns.

“The health ministry has already developed complete guidelines on the vaccine deployment and we know how many teams of vaccinators would be required. We are confident that we will complete vaccinating all the eligible population within five to seven days.”

Meanwhile, on the vaccine storage, Lyonpo said that there is enough capacity in the country as the current vaccine (Covishield or Oxford-AstraZeneca) can be stored in a regular fridge temperature of 2-8 degree Celsius.

Officials from the health ministry said that the Department of Medical Supply and Health Infrastructure (DoMSHI) has enough space to store 0.6 million (M) doses and that the ministry was seeking vaccine delivery in two tranches of 0.6M doses each.

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