Bhutan can vaccinate 12-17 soon as USA sends 500,000 Moderna vaccines

In consultation with the Zhung Dratshang, the government has decided to roll out the second nationwide campaign on the auspicious date of July 20

In what will be a major boost to Bhutan’s vaccination drive the USA sent 500,000 Moderna doses to Bhutan on Monday.

Apart from this 1.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine  went to Nepal.

The shipments are part of the Biden administration’s pledge to share an initial batch of 80 million U.S.-made vaccines globally amid concern about the wide disparity in vaccination rates between advanced and developing countries.

The Moderna vaccines which are mRNA vaccines significant as they are at an advanced stage of getting a clearance from the USA Food and Drug Agency (FDA) to use the vaccine in children from 12 to 17.

It is expected that this approval will come either this month or the latest by next month.

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.

Even the few not in school will be traced and contacted to come for the vaccination.

This will help to push Bhutan’s total vaccination to well above 80 percent which is the target set by the government to bring about certain economic and other relaxations including in the quarantine period, tourism and others.

This will, however, also depend on the global situation, national situation and the rise of any variants that can escape the vaccines.

The Moderna vaccines will also be used for a mixed dose approach as Bhutan is getting 350,000 Astra Zeneca doses and so the 500,000 doses will help fill any gap.

With Bhutan’s vaccine requirements now being fully met for now, Bhutan is having to say no to multiple offers of help to Bhutan coming from the many countries that Bhutan approached.

This is nothing short of also a major diplomatic success for Bhutan.

The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that once the second dose is done then the school children will be vaccinated.

NITAG is working on the modalities of mixing the doses and also vaccinating children.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said provisions to cover those who are 17 years and below are being made in consonance with the availability of data and evidences.

The arrival of such a large stock of mRNA vaccines will allow for Bhutan to not only vaccinate 12 to 17 for now but additional stocks coming in can be considered for use in a single shot third booster dose if it is needed.

A release from the US Embassy in India said the vaccine doses were donated by the U.S. government, and the American people, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s global efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The United States is proud of our long-standing friendship with Bhutan and its people,” said Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Atul Keshap.  “Supporting Bhutan’s efforts to provide safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to its people demonstrates the United States’ leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.”

The release said the arrival of the Moderna vaccines is the latest example of the United States’ efforts to support Bhutan as it combats the spread of COVID-19.  Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has provided Bhutan more than $1 million to strengthen the country’s healthcare system, contribute technical assistance, and increase laboratory testing capacity. 

In addition, the U.S. government has donated essential health equipment to Bhutan, including 110 oxygen cylinders, more than 17,000 N95 masks, medical machinery and vehicles, and 15 state-of-the-art ventilators which are in use at hospitals throughout the country.

A team led by Health Minister Dechen Wangmo received the Moderna vaccines, which winged its way in a special chartered flight organised by UNICEF, to Paro International Airport late yesterday.

The PMO said apart from the USA Bhutan is receiving  250,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Denmark, over 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca from Croatia, Bulgaria and a few other countries, 5,850 doses of Pfizer from COVAX facility  and  50,000 doses of Sinopharm from People’s Republic of China. The government has also ordered the purchase of 200,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine, which will arrive towards the end of this year.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji and team will receive the first consignment of AstraZeneca from Denmark on Tuesday afternoon.

“Vaccines are certainly a most scarce commodity at this time, so we are grateful to have so much support from the international community,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said. “We are fortunate that Bhutan evokes tremendous goodwill and affection world over, we are blessed with genuine friends who have been unwavering in their help and support for our country.”

The PMO said the first round of vaccination was initiated in March with the sole support of government of India, with 550,000 doses of AstraZeneca of which the balance 62,000 is still being used for walk-in persons.

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