Around 3,000 eligible Bhutanese hold out against vaccination

The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that as of 19th August around 3,000 Bhutanese are yet to get vaccinated with the first dose.

She said initially there were a total of 25,000 who had not been vaccinated at all, but around 22,000 of them came for their first dose during the second dose mass vaccination.

Lyonpo said that should leave around 3,000 but the updated figures should come out soon.

The government is tracking down these 3,000 Bhutanese in all the districts as they will be put under the health surveillance system.

Lyonpo said these people may be asked to come and give their samples fortnightly.

She said that for frontline workers, medical staff and teachers it is mandatory to get the vaccine.

For the 3,000 yet to get vaccinated Lyonpo said that their quarantine durations would remain longer and the high risk to low risk travel quarantine would continue to apply.

Also, if these unvaccinated people want to apply for jobs like medical staff, teachers etc that bring them into contact with a lot of people then they would have to be vaccinated.

The minister said that it would be difficult for this group to travel outside Bhutan as many countries do not accept unvaccinated travelers while others required them to quarantine (at their own cost which is very expensive).

In the future, the government may also look at restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Already in New York City people who are not vaccinated cannot take part in indoor dining or go to the games.

Lyonpo said it is important for people to take responsibility as they could give the virus to the unvaccinated like young children and also the vulnerable.

The Ministry of Health is compiling a list of people in all dzongkhags that have not yet received the vaccination. This is to ensure no person is left behind.

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) member Dr Sonam Wangchuk said although the number of unvaccinated people may be small, however, the number will have an impact on achieving herd immunity.

From the public health point of view, people who are not vaccinated would become a source to other individuals and when more people are not vaccinated then there will be more outbreaks.

“The only worry is that they may develop serious symptoms, and they may have to be admitted in the hospital, and if it is critical then they have a high risk of succumbing to death,” said Dr Sonam Wangchuk.

Since the NI-TAG team is still in the process of collecting data and information on those who did not get the vaccine, the team still does not know the exact reasons on why some people are not coming for the vaccines.

He said it could be due to religious beliefs or they have injection phobia or some elderly people say that they do not want to get an injection as they have not had even one, and some say they are not going anywhere outside their community. These could be the possible reasons but there are other reasons as well, Dr Sonam Wangchuk added.

During the first round of the week-long vaccination campaign this year on 27 March, the health minister said there will be mandatory testing for the unvaccinated people, as the biggest fear is that these people could compromise the health system when there is a surge of cases.

These same groups could also be subject to compulsory tests while travelling inter-dzongkhag and following the quarantine.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said, after the second dose, the COVID-19 Task Force is still discussing the new restrictions for those who have not had their COVID-19 vaccines.

They probably have to stay in quarantine for longer durations unlike those who are vaccinated.

Those who are unvaccinated not only have a higher chance of getting infected, but they have a much higher chance of being hospitalized and dying.

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