Govt. requests additional Moderna vaccine for children from the U.S

Government had requested additional 145,000 Moderna vaccines from the U.S

Also pursuing with Pfizer to speed-up the delivery of purchase order and GAVI to consider the requirement of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines instead of AstraZeneca

Lhakpa Tshering

After the first shots of the Moderna vaccineswere administered to children aged between 12-17 years in nine high-risk districts, the government has requested the United States for additional doses of about 145,000 Moderna vaccines to continue jabbing eligible children.

The request has been placed considering the number of vaccines administered to children aged between 12 to 17 years in the nine high-risks dzongkhag – Chhukha, Dagana, Paro, Pemagatshel, SamdrupJongkhar, Samtse, Sarpang, Thimphu, and Zhemgang.

These additional vaccine needs are to administer both shots to over 47,000 unvaccinated children and the second shot to over 32,000 children immunized with a half-dose. It will also help to immunize some 3,700 adults who took Moderna as their first shot during the second vaccination round.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that while the vaccine requests have been placed, there has been no confirmation yet. “But we are fairly confident that we should be able to get it,” she said.

In the push for vaccine delivery by the last week of September, the government is also pursuing closely with Pfizer and GAVI – the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations.

“We are also pursuing with Pfizer to expedite our purchase order of 200,000 Pfizer vaccines,” Lyonpo said. “We also requested GAVI to consider our requirement of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines for children instead of AstraZeneca that we will be getting.”

Currently, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been on a clinical trial for children aged between six to 11 years. “Studies are being done. So that approval might also come,” said Lyonpo.

A foreign ministry official familiar with the vaccine follow-up tells that the health minister’s recent virtual meeting with the Pfizer CEO had a great impact in accelerating the delivery of 200,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines that the government placed a purchase order.

An official said that after their meeting in July, the Pfizer team agreed to ensure the earliest possible delivery of the vaccines to Bhutan. It is expected to be delivered by September once the operational readiness is in place for the rollout of the vaccines by the end of August.

Bhutan Times learned that a senior official of Pfizer India-based in Mumbai met the officials at the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in New Delhi earlier this month and discussed speeding up the ongoing process on the formalization of the purchase of Pfizer vaccines.

With the recommended time interval between two doses of four-eight weeks of Pfizer and Moderna mRNA, Lyonpo said, whichever the vaccine brand arrives first in the country will be rolled out immediately.

Based on the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group’s (NITAG) mix-and-match approach, she said, those who received Moderna as their first dose can be given Pfizer in the second shot. “We had rolled out the first dose in nine districts, but for the remaining 11 districts, we can either roll out Pfizer or Moderna,” she added.

“About 79 percent of the children of that age group are school-going students. So once the vaccines arrive in the country, we would take one to two days for the deployment and we will start vaccination that would barely take two days,” said Lyonpo.

Given the shortage and difficulties in securing appropriate syringes and diluents, the government is also exploring the possibilities of securing it to administer the Pfizer vaccines as soon as the vaccines arrive in the country.

And, despite the global vaccine shortage, the government is pursuing closely with the counterparts for additional doses for children to get vaccinated with two full doses. Even developed countries have not been able to roll out 100 percent for their eligible adults.

“Now we are covering additional for children. For us, children are the priority because until our children get fully vaccinated, we absolutely do not feel safe reopening anything at this point,” said Lyonpo.

For these children, Lyonpo said that about 80,000 doses are required for a single shot. “Since children in nine high-risk districts have received their first dose of a two-shot, we need about 150,000 doses,” she said, adding to administer two shots for children in 11 districts and one dose in nine districts.

Based on the projected population of the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) for 2021, the targeted population for that age group in the country is 79,986 children. Thimphu has the highest number with over 13,000 children followed by Chhukha and Samtse with about 7,000 children each.

Meanwhile, the government is also considering another booster shot requirement for 2022 even though the evidence is scientifically very little. “There is not much growing evidence. But we are also keeping a very close eye on it,” said Lyonpo.