Bhutan set to conduct second nationwide vaccination drive from 20 July


Bhutan received 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine and will be receiving more vaccines in the coming weeks.

Bhutan received Moderna vaccine from the U.S.

Last evening (12 July), Bhutan received 500,000 doses of Modern vaccine from the U.S. government. The U.S. government donated the vaccines through COVAX Facility. The vaccines were delivered to Bhutan via a special chartered flight organised by UNICEF. Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, UNICEF representative Dr Will Parks, Foreign Secretary Kinga Singye, and other officials received the vaccines at Paro International Airport. 

According to a press release from the US Embassy & Consulate in India, the U.S. government and the American people donated the vaccines as a part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s global efforts to end the Covid-19 pandemic.   

Chargé d’Affaires, Ambassador Atul Keshap, said: “The United States is proud of our long-standing friendship with Bhutan and its people. Supporting Bhutan’s efforts to provide safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to its people demonstrates the United States’ leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.”

The arrival of the Moderna vaccines yesterday was the latest example of the United States’ efforts to support Bhutan in the fight against the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has provided Bhutan with more than USD 1 million to strengthen the country’s healthcare system, contributed technical assistance to increase laboratory testing capacity.

In addition, the U.S. government donated essential health equipment to Bhutan, including 110 oxygen cylinders, more than 17,000 N95 masks, medical machinery and vehicles, and 15 state-of-the-art ventilators that are being used in various hospitals across the country.

The health ministry will roll out a sensitisation programme for the community to educate people on the side effects and benefits of the Moderna vaccine.

Bhutan to receive more COVID-19 vaccines

Another consignment of 120,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine gifted by Denmark will arrive in the country today. 

The UNICEF office in Bhutan is facilitating the transhipment of vaccines to Bhutan.

UNICEF representative, Dr Will Parks, said that the office had to organise a chartered flight from Kentucky to Paro to bring in the vaccines.

Bhutan will be receiving more vaccines from other countries in the coming weeks:

1. 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Denmark
2. Over 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Croatia, Bulgaria and a few other countries
3. 5,850 doses of Pfizer from COVAX Facility
4. 50,000 doses of Sinopham from People's Republic of China

The government has also ordered 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will arrive towards the end of the year.

"Vaccines are certainly a most scarce commodity at this time, so we are grateful to have so much support from the international community," said Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in a press release. "We are fortunate that Bhutan evokes tremendous goodwill and affection the world over; we are blessed with genuine friends who have been unwavering in their help and support for our country," he added.

The second nationwide vaccination drive

Bhutan has now secured sufficient vaccines to roll out the second vaccination campaign with all these generous donations from various countries. The kingdom has enough vaccines to administer the second dose for the eligible population of above 18 years and made provisions to cover those who are 17 years and below. 

Upon consultation with the Zhung Dratshang (central monastic body), the government set to carry out the nationwide vaccination drive on the auspicious date of 20 July.

About 95% of the eligible population in the country was inoculated with the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine — gifted by Government of India — in March earlier this year. 

The rollout plan will be similar to the first vaccination campaign held in March. Health Minister said that logistics were arranged as per the country's projected population, and they would distribute vaccines to all the districts in the next six days.

Vaccines would be airlifted where it was impossible to be transported by land.

Health Minister urged every eligible population to participate in the vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity.

Mixing of vaccines

Given the ongoing trials of mixing COVID-19 vaccines globally, Bhutan is also exploring the possibility of mixing the vaccines. 

AstraZeneca vaccines are viral vector vaccines, while both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. The viral vaccine stimulates a good T cell response, while the mRNA vaccine creates a solid antibody response. Researchers believe that combining the different vaccines will trigger a more robust and longer-lasting immune response. 

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) has also recommended the mix-and-match method of vaccination. However, the government is still deciding whether to go ahead with the heterologous method. 

Meanwhile, the second nationwide vaccination rollout and allocation plan will be notified in the coming days.

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