Bhutan may become first country in the world to reach herd immunity

If all goes to plan with Bhutan’s second dose vaccination program, then in another two months or so it stands to become the first country in the world to reach the 80 percent herd immunity required against the Delta variant.

The earlier standard for herd immunity was vaccinating 60 to 70 percent of the total population but this has now been moved up to around 80 percent as the delta variant is much more transmissible than the original COVID strain.

Right now Bhutan already has around 95 percent of the eligible population getting vaccinated and around 65 percent of the total population getting the second dose with 45,000 students between 12-17 getting the first dose in the 9 high risk Dzongkhags.

If it can get its its 12-17 group fully vaccinated with two doses and also some more of those who are yet to get the second dose, then Bhutan will achieve the 80 percent herd immunity required against Delta variant.

The Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said, “It would be fair to say we are on track right now and we have approached countries to help us in vaccinating our children and after we do so probably Bhutan will be the first country to achieve herd immunity.”

“Right now top on the list with the second dose vaccine is Israel but our data is not updated right now but once we update our data then probably it will be us,” said Lyonpo.

However, the minister said that the main aim of achieving 80 percent herd immunity is to protect the children.

The Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that Bhutan is approaching the US government again requesting for 140,000 more Moderna vaccine doses to complete its vaccination program among its 12-17 year olds.

The aim is to also procure the 200,000 plus Pfizer vaccines by September 2021 which can be used alternately with Moderna.

A hidden benefit is that Pfizer is in the advanced stage of trials on vaccinating children from 11 to 5 with data to come by September 2021 and probable approval to be given by October 2021.

So if it reaches here around the same time and gets approval to vaccinate those from 11 to five then Bhutan can achieve a herd immunity heading into 90 percent plus.

The Health Minister said that Pfizer is coming but she does not want to jinx it by giving away the timeline.

Bhutan is also understood to have approached other countries for mRNA vaccines. 

At the moment the country top of the pile with second dose vaccinations is the United Arab Emirates which has given the second dose to around 71 percent of its population.

The small nation of Seychelles is at around 70 percent.

Israel has vaccinated around 62 percent of its total population.

An important component of Bhutan getting the Moderna vaccines was that Bhutan had agreed to share the data of the mixed dose with Moderna.

In line with that, starting from Thursday, Bhutan is collecting the 14-days antibodies results from 4,000 people.

Dasho Dechen Wangmo said this will be the cohort of people who already have given their baseline before the vaccine and now after 14 days the MoH is collecting their second blood sample.

Within this group comparison is being done between the homologous group and also the heterologous group.

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