UNICEF hails Bhutan’s successful completion of full COVID-19 vaccinations for 90% of eligible population

UNICEF Bhutan congratulates the Royal Government of Bhutan for completing the second phase of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign. As a result of exemplary efforts by the Government, 90 per cent of the eligible population in the country has been vaccinated. With home-based vaccination continuing until July 31, the coverage is likely to increase in the coming weeks.

A total of 4,868 health workers helped to vaccinate the eligible population with the second dose from 20 to 26 July across the country, arguably the fastest vaccination campaign to be executed during a pandemic. The precision with which Bhutan conducted mass vaccination campaigns within a week is an extraordinary achievement.

The success is mainly due to the efforts that went into securing the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines and extensive preparations for the roll out of the vaccines using all forms of resources available in the country, including training health workers, and making people aware about the campaign in advance.

In particular, the Royal Government of Bhutan made exhaustive efforts to reach all target groups. Health workers organized vaccinations at community centres but also conducted home-visits to vaccinate the elderly and people with disabilities and trekked to higher altitudes to reach the nomadic herders. Children aged 12-17 years in the high-risk areas along the southern border towns are also receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

Bhutan is now a beacon of hope for the region, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives and devastated families. The successes are testimony to Bhutan’s swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In such challenging times, the leadership of His Majesty The King, the blessings of His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the collective efforts of the Royal Government of Bhutan, local leaders, young people and development partners have been instrumental in Bhutan’s huge leap forward.

UNICEF and partners are honoured to have assisted the Royal Government of Bhutan in strengthening the cold chain system to store the vaccines. We have also provided critical logistical and operational support in fast-tracking the shipment of vaccines and injection devices to Bhutan. This includes arranging a chartered flight from the US to transport the vaccines and ramping up other vaccine shipments through commercial flights. UNICEF’s expertise in securing and installing eight walk-in coolers and two ultra-cold chain fridges across the country while supporting risk communication and community engagement activities were catalytic in preparing for the rapid mass vaccination campaign.

Bhutan’s successful vaccination drive is a powerful example of how the donations of vaccines, secured bilaterally and multilaterally, can help protect and save lives. Two weeks ago, Bhutan received 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, thanks to donations by the United States Government. Earlier this year, Bhutan also received 5,850 doses of Pfizer through COVAX. Other donations came in from China, Denmark, and India. More COVID-19 vaccines from Bulgaria and Croatia landed in Paro on July 27.

As we celebrate the successes in Bhutan, we must not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over – for Bhutan, for its neighbours in the region and for the world. Public health safety measures such as physical distancing, handwashing with soap and wearing of masks are still important.

Vaccines will help us end the COVID-19 pandemic, but only if everyone has access to them. According to WHO’s summary of latest available official data, 4 million health workers in South Asia are still not fully vaccinated.

We are thankful to the commitment of the United States Government and other countries in coming forth at a critical time. UNICEF urges well supplied countries to continue to donate COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX, the international vaccine equity initiative, so that countries that are grappling with poor vaccination coverage and dangerous surges in infection rates can get the vaccines they so desperately need to save lives. Bhutan’s example also shows us that countries need greater funding in preparing for swift rollouts of vaccines and that preparatory efforts go a long way in reaching the remotest areas.

With the pandemic raging in the region, the virus still spreading in many countries and producing new variants, and vaccine shortages, we are still at risk of more or prolonged school closures, more healthcare disruptions, and a greater economic fallout – all of which threaten the futures of families and children everywhere.

As UNICEF continues to work with governments in ensuring the safety of the people and help societies build back better, to save lives and end the pandemic, the call to donate vaccines has never been more urgent.

Statement by UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks