Bhutan restarts Covid vaccinations after flood of donations

Thimpu (Bhutan) (AFP) –


Bhutan rolled out second doses of its vaccine programme Tuesday following a lightning-fast first phase that saw most of its eligible adult population inoculated in two weeks.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom, which has a population of 770,000, was forced to wait more than three months to revive its mass vaccination drive after neighbouring India halted exports to meet local demand during a massive surge in infections.

Bhutan had pleaded for more shots after using up most of the 550,000 AstraZeneca doses donated by India when it inoculated 60 percent of the population -- most of the country's adults -- with first doses in late March and early April.

Last week, half a million Moderna doses donated by the United States via Covax and another 250,000 AstraZeneca shots from Denmark arrived in Bhutan.

Covax is the distributor backed by the World Health Organization and the Gavi vaccine alliance.

The inoculation drive, open to everyone aged above 18, will last until Monday.

The health ministry added that vaccinations of children aged 12 to 17 would be announced later.

More than 400,000 AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sinopharm shots are also expected to arrive from Croatia, Bulgaria, China and several other countries.

The government has meanwhile bought 200,000 Pfizer doses that are expected to be delivered later this year.

During a trial roll-out over the past week, recipients including Prime Minister Lotay Tshering were administered Moderna as their second dose.

"We all... must know that it's only through vaccination that you can protect yourself and through you... the community," Tshering, a qualified doctor who continues to practise on weekends, said in a video posted on Facebook by the health ministry Saturday.

Bhutan has reported 2,427 Covid-19 infections and one death so far.

The country's speedy roll-out of jabs stands in contrast with other South Asian nations, which have also been hit by India's suspension of vaccine exports.