Even as Bhutan receives its first consignment of COVID-19 vaccines from India, we are faced with new, emerging challenges to tackle the virus.
The new strain of the Coronavirus (N501Y) which was detected in the UK first has reportedly been detected in at least 60 countries. While innovating the COVID-19 vaccines in so short a duration was nothing short of a scientific miracle, one needs to remember that these vaccines are EUA (Emergency Use Authorization). And their efficacy and use is suspect. They are not cent percent dependable. Not to mention, some develop reactions to their use and a few deaths after inoculation have been reported by international media although, the reasons for demise are yet to be determined.
WHO has also expressly stated that developing herd immunity to the virus anytime soon would be impossible because of the scale of infection and limited supply of vaccines. It does not help that the richer countries are not willing to part with the vaccines though admittedly their citizens need it as much as those in poorer countries.
The challenge for Bhutan right now would be to procure and roll out the COVID vaccines for its 533,000 eligible population. While the Prime Minister has assured that health workers and volunteers on all levels are being trained for the roll out, a concern would be the side-effects the vaccine could produce especially among the elderly and those with comorbidities.
Additionally, epidemiological experts doubt that the latest outbreaks in Thimphu and Paro were caused by the new strain of the virus because of its super-transmissibility. The samples of the strains that were collected during the period have been sent abroad for testing to see if this is the case. If it is indeed the new strain, Bhutan might need to brace up with stringent measures to contain or prevent another outbreak.
Right now, medical experts are of the view that though the new strain is more transmissible by nature, its impact is not necessarily more serious, and that the vaccines created as of now can work on preventing it. However, the research is still on.
Experts have also stated that the vaccine alone cannot do the job of eradicating the virus and preventative measures like using face masks, washing hands, maintaining distance, and avoiding crowds among others must be continued.
In light of all this, we can conclude that though Bhutan might inoculate its population successfully, the risks and danger are still imminent. We cannot suddenly declare ourselves free of the responsibility of protecting ourselves and others just because we have been vaccinated.
There have been instances globally where some who were vaccinated were re-infected by the virus. This could be due to various reasons including vaccine efficacy, levels of immunity, reaction to the vaccine, surrounding hygiene and so on.
Bhutan has so far made every move cautiously, almost wisely. It would be insightful on our part to not go into carefree celebration mode at least for at least a couple of months and continue to observe every precaution required to ward off the virus until more effective and socio-friendly solutions can be administered.