Even if people have received both doses risk has not changed: NI-TAG team

With the second dose of vaccination across the country, the relaxation of the current restrictions will be brought in a phase-wise manner. The National COVID-19 Task Force (NI-TAG) is yet to decide on the relaxation.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk of NI-TAG said there will be some relaxation nationwide, but only a few measures might be relaxed, as people will still have to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols. For the unvaccinated eligible population in the country, there will be some restrictions placed on them too.

There are some countries allowing the fully vaccinated people to do away with the quarantine period, while Dr Sonam Wangchuk said the country might reduce the number of days, but not completely do away with the quarantine period.

“The country cannot start relaxing everything, and it is important to observe the situation because the virus, now and then, has totally changed. In fact, other countries are planning on bringing back the restrictions due to worsening situation caused by safety protocol relaxation. Bhutan is not safe until the world is safe,” said Dr Sonam Wangchuk.

Although 95.6 percent of the eligible population are vaccinated, this vaccination will not give 100 percent protection from the disease. People will still get the infection. So that is why, unless all the children are vaccinated between 12-17 years and 6 to 11 years, there is no chance of going into a complete relaxation.

“People might be fully vaccinated, but it does not mean that people will not get infected even after two weeks or more than that. Whether a person gets their first or second dose, they will still get infected since vaccines only prevent from getting severe cases. Hospitalization and deaths is very rare if one is vaccinated even if a person has some medical conditions,” Dr Sonam said.

A fully vaccinated person can get infected, but the vaccinated person will experience a shorter infection time, and have milder symptoms than those who are unvaccinated.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said if it is the same coronavirus that the country first detected, by this time every restriction would have been lifted, but the coronavirus has changed, and the vaccine efficacy has gone down.

The coronavirus is highly transmissible. The experts are saying this may lead to another round of infection globally. Many countries are experiencing hard times, as their people are not fully vaccinated, and many have not even received the first dose of vaccine.

Lately the country has not detected new COVID-19 cases, but it cannot be said that it is because of the vaccine, but the vaccine will have an impact. “Now the country has vaccinated the second dose, and after two to three weeks, there will be some reduction of positive cases,” he said.

The NI-TAG team recommends the public to follow all the safety measures in order to minimize the impact. Proper use of facemask is important at all times, and it is proven to be an effective barrier and is as good as getting a COVID-19 vaccine. “It will prevent you from getting infected and it will also reduce the transmission of infection to others,” Dr Sonam said.

There should be good ventilation since the virus is transmissible by air, and this is why Phuentsholing has been getting so many positive cases from the households.

People need to follow and adhere to the COVID-19 safety protocol. Containment is as good as quarantine, but people hardly follow it said Dr Sonam. In the recent case in Phuentsholing, a driver had breached the containment protocol. “So it is the responsibility of an individual, whether to make the situation worse or minimize the impact. If all the protocols and safety measures were followed properly then the virus would have been contained a long time back,” he said.

After fully vaccinating, there may not be a big outbreak, but the concern is, if people are not following protocol properly then young children who are not vaccinated will contract the virus since the Delta Variant is infecting more young children, and this may lead to young children being hospitalized.

Demographically, there are more young people, and that is the disadvantage. There are 30 percent of the young population below 18 years, which makes it difficult to achieve herd immunity. Even if all the children aged between 12 to 17 years are vaccinated, the country will still not achieve arbitrary herd immunity. So it is important to vaccinate children aged between 6 to 12 years as well, then maybe, relaxation can come in sooner.

There are still about 50 percent of young children who are unvaccinated, and overall about 40 percent of children are vaccinated. The government is in talks for procuring vaccines for the rest of the children.

Globally, if countries are not trying to help each other and vaccinate at the shortest period of time, there is no chance of this pandemic to end, said Dr Sonam Wangchuk.

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