Gearing towards the second nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign starting from 20 July, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering became the first person to receive the Moderna vaccine (heterologous approach) as his second dose on 17 July in the capital.
The PM led a group of volunteers, a total of 613, from diverse age groups, and Health Minister Dechen Wangmo and National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel were some other frontrunners in the second vaccine dose campaign. .
The program was held three days ahead of the nationwide rollout of the second vaccination and was aimed at sharing experience, and informing the nation that vaccination is the only long term solution to end the pandemic.
Since Moderna vaccine is being used for the first time in the country, the Prime minister and volunteers took the vaccine before the nationwide rollout by way of sharing experience and instilling confidence in the people of the government’s mix-and-match approach.
Lyonchhen said: “All through the pandemic His Majesty’s command is loud and clear- protecting the lives should take precedence over everything else. Besides ensuring livelihood, His Majesty embraced non-compromising approach to save lives, even if it meant endangering His own. This wisdom kept us on track so far.”
The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office states that all vaccines that have emergency use approval are equally safe. But on immune protection, even if by a margin, the emerging literature points towards a better immune response for those who have received mRNA vaccine as second dose and AstraZeneca as their first dose.
While this is one of the heterologous regimens, it does not mean homologous modes of vaccination are ineffective, which is why it is also valid to have same vaccine for the second dose.
Lyonchhen said that a separate package designed to allocate the limited stock of Pfizer available with them will be used to cover children between 12 and 17 years. This Pfizer vaccine stock would be given to children living in areas of outbreak in Phuentsholing and Samtse, those travelling for treatment outside and travelling for studies outside.
Thus, with the available evolving evidence, Lyonchhen recommended totake Moderna vaccine as second dose for those who had received AstraZeneca as first dose. AstraZeneca would also be made available as second dose for those who insist on it for personal reasons.
Given the sufficient doses, first timers can receive either AstraZeneca, Sinopharm or Moderna. For this group of people, the second dose can be Moderna and Sinopharm vaccine in four weeks or AstraZeneca in 12 to 16 weeks in homologous mode. Heterologous options will also be provided based on availability.
“My sincere request to everyone is to pay more importance to getting vaccinated than delving into the choice of vaccines,” the PM said.
While studies are underway, Lyonchhen said the government is waiting for evidence to emerge in the coming days for use of Moderna in children below 17 years, for which he said works are already underway to ensure timely vaccination.
“The delta-variant of Covid-19 is more contagious. I urge everyone to rise above the circumstances to get vaccinated and add up the number that gives us “herd immunity” faster. For that, we need to vaccinate an arbitrary minimum 80 percent of the total population, in the shortest possible time,” Lyonchhen said.
He added that this will give us the much-desired opportunity to reduce Covid-19 from the public health hazard status to an individual health problem. Thereon, we can design personal protection from Covid-19 like any other disease, since it is here to stay. This is also with the hope that there won’t be emergence of a non-responsive variant.
Lyonchhen said the vaccination, and subsequently herd immunity, is the only way to enter the “new normal” era sooner. However, as we consider post-vaccination protocols, same restrictions will continue to be imposed on those who are not vaccinated, given the risk they pose to themselves or others.
After receiving the vaccines, two minor Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) side effects were reported that is dizziness and one itching around the injection site. The oldest individual vaccinated was 88-years-old while the youngest individual is 18.
Meanwhile, kidney transplant recipient, Member of Parliament (MP) from Athang-Thedtsho constituency in Wangduephodrang, Kinley Wangchuk who received the Moderna vaccine along with Lyonchhen.
He said that despite of not having difficulty in getting vaccines in the world we are fortunate because of His Majesty The King, and of course the government taking the command seriously, we could have option to opt for vaccines.
“Being a certain medical conditions, I felt I should get protected and I would encourage all people with medical conditions to take up this jab seriously.”