Bhutan offers 150,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Thailand

A batch of 150,000 AstraZeneca doses from Bhutan arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand (Photo: The National Thailand)

Lhakpa Tshering

After the Thai government requested vaccines from Bhutan to help cover its domestic shortfall, the government loaned soon-to-expire doses of 150,000 AstraZeneca vaccines – 15,000 vials – to Thailand on 20 August.

The vaccine delivery was approved under a swap deal agreed by donor countries and relevant authorities including the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) of Bhutan to re-export where the vaccine doses will be returned at a later date – no time frame for that.

Foreign minister Dr. Tandi Dorji said that while they have not yet talked between governments about which type of vaccines to get back, Bhutan expects to get some of their Pfizer and Moderna vaccines back when Bhutan requires the vaccines at a later date.

This is because, Lyonpo said, Bhutan had vaccinated over 95 percent of its eligible adult population with both shots, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not required as it was not recommended for children below the age of 17 years.

Given the successful immunization of both shots to its eligible population and some 4,700 children in Phuentsholing and Samtse – a mix and match regimen – it requires additional Moderna or Pfizer vaccines to jab the second dose for children in 11 districts and both shots for the rest of the children in seven districts.

Health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo also said it does not mean that the same quantity of vaccines of the same brand should be returned. “It will be what is needed. We are helping each other out where needed,” she said.

She is hopeful that they would consider the type of vaccines required for Bhutan. “If we require Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, later on, we can request that for us,” Lyonpo added. “I am sure these countries will also consider our request.”

According to the Thai media sources, Public Health Ministry permanent secretary Kiattiphum Wongrajit was quoted as saying that Thailand would deliver AstraZeneca vaccines to Bhutan by the end of this year.

Thailand plans to administer to vulnerable people – the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women later this month.

It remarked that Thailand has been struggling with a vaccine shortage amid a rapidly escalating third wave of infections just two months before it started its mass vaccination drive in June.

Thailand has so far managed to fully vaccinate less than eight percent of its population of some 69-million with new daily infections projected to double next month.

The government loaned surplus AstraZeneca vaccines to Thailand and Nepal as the vaccines nearing their expiry date – end of August and October.

Currently, Bhutan has an estimated stockpile of 18,400 AstraZeneca vaccines with expiry this October, 69,600 doses of Covishield vaccine expiring on 5 March 2022, and 49,600 doses of Sinopharm vaccine with expiry in March 2023.