All eligible population to be vaccinated in next four weeks: PM

Studies conducted by the UK and India reveal that the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine can be given even after an interval of 12 to 16 weeks, says Lyonchhen

Despite the worsening COVID-19 situation and vaccine shortage in India, Bhutan is hopeful to vaccinate all the 526,000 eligible population in the next four weeks, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

During the question and answer session of the National Assembly on Friday, Lyonchhen said, “It is not possible for India to provide vaccines out of their country for the next one month. However, having strong bilateral relationship between the two countries since our forefathers’ time, India has assured their support.”

Lyonchhen said that the Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest manufacturer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, producing about 70mn to 80mn in a month, and that India requires around 800mn of vaccines a month presently.

Moreover, Lyonchhen said that His Majesty The King had commanded that the vaccines would be more beneficial to India than Bhutan at this hour although we require the vaccines.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen was responding to the query raised by the Member of Parliament (MP) from Chhumig-Ura constituency in Bumthang, Karma Wangchuk.

The MP asked the PM on the government’s preparedness and activities taken up for the second nationwide vaccine campaign that was scheduled for eight to 12 weeks and that it has been now more than two months.

Lyonchhen said the vaccines are important to protect from diseases including the COVID-19, however, there is not a single COVID-19 vaccine that can protect 100% from COVID-19 and a vaccine that could protect an individual for lifetime.

As per the World Health Organization’s guidelines, the government planned to administer the second dose after eight to 12 weeks to achieve the herd immunity by vaccinating all the eligible population in a week to 10 days, said Lyonchhen.

He added that as per studies conducted by the UK and India, the second dose can also be administered after an interval of 12 to 16 weeks.

“We are ready to give the second dose as per the scheduled period, and we can vaccinate 66% of the population in a week to 10 days through the experiences of the first dose,” said Lyonchhen.

Additionally, Lyonchhen shared that 95% of the eligible population has been vaccinated, accounting to 66% of the total population since the first nationwide vaccine campaign on March 27.

However, Lyonchhen said there are still 27,000 people who have not vaccinated and vaccination program is still going on. Lyonchhen urged those people to get vaccinated.

Apart from India, Lyonchhen informed that the foreign ministry is also looking for other avenues in consultation with other 15 countries to procure vaccines, including 13 countries that manufactures AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer from Israel and Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

Lyonchhen said Israel shared some inconveniences and that the foreign ministry is still in consultation with Russia, and those countries producing AstraZeneca vaccine expressed the shortage of vaccines in their own country, moreover, three countries have assured to support us.

“Additionally, Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo is in Geneva for the World Health Assembly (WHA) and Bhutan is fortunate to be nominated as the President of WHA for a year. His Majesty The King has also commanded the Health Minister on the vaccines,” the PM said.

Further, Lyonchhen said that Switzerland has a huge potential to provide AstraZeneca vaccine and they have agreed to provide the vaccine.

As of now, Lyonchhen said Bhutan still has 62,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and 5,800 doses of Pfizer vaccine.

He added that the government supported sending 80 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to India, 77 to Bangladesh, and 80 to Nepal for the Bhutanese living abroad.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu