Govt. requests 17 countries for second dose Covid-19 vaccine

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji

India, the USA, Japan and Denmark agreed to consider vaccine request, but no confirmation has been received to date

Lhakpa Tshering

In the push for coronavirus vaccine delivery by the last week of June as promised, the government has requested 17 countries to provide 550,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to administer the second dose to all its eligible population.

Besides India, the government has sent urgent requests to the USA, Japan, Denmark, Russian Federation, France, Switzerland, Kuwait, Canada, Australia, Thailand, Germany, South Korea, Israel, Norway, Austria, and Finland.

While some countries could not consider the request due to export restrictions in their countries, the government is also awaiting responses from others with “hope for good news” soon.

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said besides India, the USA, Denmark, and Japan are considering Bhutan’s request positively. “But we are awaiting confirmation on the arrival date of the vaccine in the country,” he said. “We are hopeful to get the vaccines once we begin administering the second dose.”

The US donated 7-million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to Asia countries, Bhutan excluded, following its plans for the first 25-million donated vaccine doses. It announced that the US will donate 80-million doses of Covid-19 vaccines for global use by the end of June.

“This means we are doing very well while some countries are facing the threats,” said Lyonpo. “But the US said Bhutan’s request will be considered for the second batch of vaccine donations.”

Denmark also donated 358,700 unused AstraZeneca vaccines that expire in July 31 to Kenya as part of the 3-million doses it has earmarked for donation this year, while Japan donated 1.24-million doses of the AstraZeneca to Taiwan.

“Their second batch of vaccine delivery is yet to be announced,” said Lyonpo, adding we are hopeful Bhutan will be included in the second tranche.

Lyonpo said that the foreign ministry has been constantly in touch with the Bhutanese embassies and missions. “They have been vigorously following up with their counterparts. We will continue to pursue it with all the countries,” he said.

Lyonpo further said the government is also exploring the possibility to procure 1-million doses of Sputnik vaccines to cover first and second doses which are different.

Given the earlier AstraZeneca’s dosing interval between eight to 12 weeks, the second dose is due on 27 June. However, India extended the gap between two doses of AstraZeneca following recommendations of experts that Covishield doses can now be taken between 12 to 16 weeks.

In case of delay, Lyonpo said they will follow the dosage gap between 12 to 16 weeks as India assured to provide the promised stock. “I am confident that they (India) will give us vaccination by next month even if it gets delayed for a gap of up to 12 weeks,” he added.

“However, as far as possible, our target is to administer in the earlier scheduled time of vaccination,” he said. “We will continue to work hard.”

On the increasing dosage gap, Lyonpo said that the experts say that the benefits of the first dose will even go up to five to six months. “Currently, medically and scientifically the first dose is protecting well. None of the current active cases in the country require oxygen,” he said.

Meanwhile, sources say that the procurement order of 200,000 Pfizer doses has been confirmed with Pfizer India and the delivery is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2021.

At present, there are 60,620 leftover doses of AstraZeneca, 50,000 doses of Sinopharm, and 5,850 doses of Pfizer vaccines in the country.