Photo Courtesy: UNICEF

121,000 children will still remain unprotected from the COVID-19 variants

Even after vaccinating the children aged between 12 to 17 years, Bhutan will still be left with around 121,000 children unprotected from the COVID-19 variants.

The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said the ministry is working towards securing vaccines for the children. The ministry will be taking up the discussion bilaterally with the company and with COVAX as well.

“We are quite hopeful that the country should be able to get vaccines for children,” said the Health Minister.

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) will wait for the Moderna vaccine to get approval to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 years. The Moderna vaccines, which are mRNA vaccines, are at an advanced stage of getting a clearance from the USA Food and Drug Agency (FDA) for use in children from 12 to 17 years.

The studies are underway, and the government is also waiting for evidence to emerge in the coming days for use of Moderna in children below 17 years, for which works are already underway to ensure timely vaccination, stated the PMO press release.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk of NITAG said children aged between 12 to 17 years will go for homologous dosing since heterologous on children do not have any evidence of efficacy as of now. Also, Pfizer vaccines are not enough to vaccinate the total number of eligible children.  So when the time comes, children will be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine for both first and second dose.

After the Moderna vaccines gets approved for children, this will allow the government to go for a mass school to school campaign after rolling out the second dose where around 87,000 eligible students will be vaccinated within a short period of time. Even the few children that are not in schools will be traced and contacted to come for the vaccination.

Globally the approved vaccine is above 12 years old for now, but studies have also done as low as six months old. So as the study evolves then something may come up, the Health Minister added.

Lyonpo said the biggest worry is for the children, and if there is even a little mortality in children, that will break the backbone of the country. So that is why, every child is screened routinely, tests are conducted every fortnightly. More than 4,000 tests are conducted as part of the routine surveillance apart from clustered screening or testing primary contacts. And every test costs around USD 8.

She also said that if all the eligible population and children between 12 years to 17 years are vaccinated, the rest of the children will be protected when the country achieves the herd immunity.

Bhutan got 500,000 doses of Moderna from USA through COVAX facility, it got half of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Denmark, is getting 100,000 AstraZeneca doses from Bulgaria Crotia and others, it got 5,850 doses of Pfizer from COVAX facility and is also getting 50,000 doses of Sinopharm from People’s Republic of China.

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

Meanwhile, the PMO press release stated that the limited stock of Pfizer available in the country will cover children between 12 years to 17 years living in areas of outbreak in Phuentsholing and Samtse, and also those who are travelling for treatment outside and for studies outside.

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