18th March set as a possible date for start of COVID-19 mass vaccination

470,627 people have registered for the COVID-19 vaccination as of 15th March

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is holding discussions on when to start the COVID-19 mass vaccination. The tentative date is set for 18 March according to the MoH but this is not finalized and may change.

Currently, health workers are being trained to administer the vaccines, and works are also underway to take care of logistics and arrangement. The ministry has enough human resources to conduct the mass vaccination.

There will also be a movement restriction for a few days so that the whole population is vaccinated at once. This, however, will not be a lockdown as rumored.

An official from the health ministry said MoH has already seen a large number of people registering for the COVID-19 vaccine, and so they have good information on the geographic and demographic distribution, and therefore micro plans are being drawn at the health facility level.

The Bhutanese has learnt that many people are worried about a there being a weeklong lockdown. The ministry clarified that there will only be a movement restriction imposed and the number of days is also yet to be determined. The ministry will also give out information on the mainstream media on how one moves out to buy essential items and rations.

During the last meet the press session, the Health Minister said suggestions were made for schools and other institution to made into venues to vaccinate people since after vaccinating, people will have to be observed for about 30 minutes for any side effect or adverse reaction to the vaccine.

The country has 150,000 Covishield (Astra-Zeneca) vaccines. The ministry plans to do mass vaccination since the efficacy of mass vaccination for all is more effective, unlike in the past where the ministry planned that the vaccine will be given in four phases. The additional doses of 400,000 vaccines will be arriving in the country by anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the second dose will be rolled out after a two to three-months gap, and Bhutan will receive a second dose of 550,000 vaccines after five to six months from the Indian Government.

The Prime Minister Dr Dasho Lotay Tshering said that the foreign minister Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji had been in touch with his Indian counterparts who said that the vaccines will come in by the third week of March.

An exact date of delivery has not yet been fixed which is one of the main reasons why the MoH’s 18th March date is tentative for now.

India itself is massively ramping up its vaccine drive in all states focusing on the frontline workers, elderly and those who have co-morbidity.

The Prime Minister said that the ‘dana’ or the inauspicious month ends on 14th March and 18th March is a good day and the GoI in its official communication has said that it could be as per this plan.

He said though the government has told GoI it is okay if the vaccine comes in the last week of March or even the first week of April the GoI has committed to the third week of March 2021.

The Prime Minister said that GoI has always fulfilled its commitment made at the highest level with Prime Minister Modi in Delhi with the first batch already delivered and the second batch expected to come soon. He said the Indian Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj has also been very proactive on the issue. He said the help has also been beyond Bhutan’s expectation.

Lyonchhen said that going by the track record they are more then convinced that the vaccines will be here by the third week of March.

Apart from the GoI the COVAX facility is expected to send around 108,000 doses in April if there are enough vaccines with them and if not it will send for around 5 percent of the population which is around 35,000 plus doses.

Bhutan is also in talks with Pfizer to get around 200,000 doses which it could come in the second half of the year or even next year. Pfizer can be fully used in kids between 12 to 15 of age, and also the elderly people.

The extra doses will be useful for Bhutan to vaccinate 12,000 to 13,000 children who come of age every year as well as Bhutanese coming back and others.

The Prime Minister said that an advantage is in how Bhutan has managed COVID-19 with a small number of cases and with no pressure on hospitals and so Bhutan can afford to wait and take its time.

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