The Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that as the 12-week vaccine gap dose officially ends on 27th June the government is working hard to get the vaccines for the second dose.
One major source of hope is India which according to the Foreign Minister had been giving assurances of sending vaccines within the 16 weeks gap which falls within July.
According to the Indian news portal The Print depending on the scale of production of vaccines within India, New Delhi is aiming at July-end or August 2021 to at least release those vaccines that have been bought by Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal and are now in pending status.
The supplies to Bhutan, which received vaccines from India as grants, will be prioritized too says The Print.
The encouraging sign for Bhutan is the falling case numbers in India and record vaccinations as production is ramped up and new facilities come online which allows India breathing space to fulfill its neighbourhood commitments.
Lyonpo said that though there are no peer reviewed papers yet on the 16-week gap, Bhutan’s National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) has had an online meeting with AstraZeneca on Friday which shared its evidence or studies on the 16 weeks gap which are with the company but yet to be published in any journal.
However, the government is not leaving anything to chance and it is still actively trying to get vaccines from other countries.
Lyonpo said a certain country has verbally promised 10,000 doses while another said 8,000 and so on but there is no official commitment yet.
The minister said that by the next month Bhutan will somehow get the vaccines for the second dose.
There is also some hope with Japan which has a huge order of AstraZeneca vaccines at around 15 mn doses it is not using and also European countries.
The minister said that in the case of Japan a lot of regulatory formalities have to be completed including seeking permission of AstraZeneca before Japan can send in vaccines.
Lyonpo said that the 55 mn doses coming from USA to the world will not include the AstraZeneca pile which is yet to get regulatory approval. This means that USA could be sending a mix of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
Bhutan’s share is expected to come through the COVAX-facility which could be 108,000 doses.
Bhutan has requested USA to prioritize Pfizer for Bhutan as this can be used for 12 years and above.
The only catch in the US supply is that it will reach Bhutan by around August. However, this will still be significant if all or most of it is Pfizer so that Bhutan can start vaccinating school children.
Bhutan’s request to purchase 1 mn doses of the Sputnik vaccine to RDIF of Russia still stands but there has been no response yet. Bhutan has already ordered 200,000 doses of Pfizer which is expected to come towards the end of the year.
Lyonpo said that the vaccines from other countries would also be important as if they come in then it would also be easier for India to fill the remaining gap.
The second dose will especially be important for Bhutan now give that 87 of the new cases are of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The Delta variant requires 2 doses of AstraZeneca for around 60 percent protection from infection as one dose gives only 33 percent protection as per a UK study.