Younten Tshedup 

While the Covid-19 vaccination is expected to begin this month, many things still remain unclear.  The government is yet to finalise the date for mass vaccination.

The government plans to inoculate the entire “eligible” population, estimated at around 533,558, in seven days.

Kuensel learnt that the health ministry has proposed closure of schools, institutions and closure of inter-dzongkhag movement during the vaccination week.

This, according to health officials, is for maximum coverage.

The vaccine registration portal available on the health ministry’s website registers an individual based on their present address.

One of the officials said that if inter-dzongkhag movement is kept open, many might miss out during the vaccination week, as they could be travelling. “Similarly, keeping schools and institutions open will also require additional manpower, as every school and office will have to be monitored separately.”

It was learnt that every individual would be kept under observation for at least 30 minutes for possible adverse events following immunisation.

However, he said that the closure of schools and institutions and closure of inter-dzongkhag movement was not a lockdown. “People can move as it is today within their dzongkhags.”

While this arrangement has been proposed by the health ministry, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo earlier last week said that the final decision would come from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

As of yesterday, no decisions were made on the proposal, as additional doses of vaccines from Indian were yet to arrive.

The final date of mass vaccination will also be contingent on the vaccine arrival.

Kuensel learnt that additional doses of vaccine from Indian are expected to arrive in the country by March 14, and the deployment of the vaccines to the rest of the country would begin the next day.  The mass vaccination campaign, tentatively, will begin from March 18.

Chidrel Lyonpo (foreign minister) Dr Tandi Dorji last month said that the government was expecting about 400,000 additional doses of the Covishield vaccine from India in the second week of March.  He said that the first dose of the vaccine would be given out by the end of March.

The month-long Dana (inauspicious month) will also end next week.  The government had decided to roll out the inoculation after Dana.

In line with these timelines, the vaccination would have to start by this month.  However, with three weeks remaining before the month ends, many have taken to social media to express the challenges associated with such uncertainties.

“We’re told that the vaccination would begin from this month but there’s no specific date provided,” wrote one. “A specific date would help us plan our travels accordingly.”

A businessman in Thimphu said that the government by now should have updated the public on how the mass rollout of vaccines would happen. “We’re asked to register but aren’t given any information on how and when we’d be given the jab. They say it will soon begin. But how soon is soon?”

A civil servant said that, if the government didn’t give details of the rollout plan, it would cause inconveniences similar to the lockdowns. “When things are done in an ad-hoc manner, no matter how much you’re prepared, there’ll be issues. No one, including the media, seems to be aware as to how the vaccination would be conducted.”

Meanwhile, 395,256 people have registered for the Covid-19 vaccination programme as of last evening.  This, however, doesn’t show how many of the registered have opted for the vaccination (Yes/No).

A notification of the PMO on March 5 stated that, while the vaccination was purely voluntary, it was mandatory for all the eligible population residing in the country aged 15 and above to register for the vaccination.