As the deadline to administer the second dose to children aged between 12 and 17 years approaches, efforts continue with Pfizer and Moderna in its quest to secure additional vaccines to continue immunizing eligible children against the coronavirus.
Given the recommended interval of 4 to 8 weeks between mRNA Covid-19 vaccine doses by the national immunization technical advisory group (NITAG), some 36,200 children and adults who received Moderna as their first dose are due for a second dose in September.
In the push for vaccine delivery by September, the government has been in constant touch with the United States for some 145,000 additional Moderna vaccines requested earlier this month.
Foreign minister Dr. Tandi Dorji said that the Bhutanese embassies and missions have been actively following up with their counterparts. “We remain hopeful that additional vaccines would arrive in the country by September,” he said.
According to the foreign minister, the U.S has said it would consider the request in the next – fifth – phase. “They have not said that they are unable to donate,” he said. “They said they will consider our request, but it has to be done through the COVAX facility.”
The U.S plans to allocate 500-million doses to the COVAX facility. But it would prioritize considering the factors such as the current rate of vaccinations, countries vaccinated less of their population, death rate, the emergence of surges, and ability to receive and administer vaccine donations.
Given this uncertainty, Lyonpo said that the government, in the meantime, is exploring all options to secure additional vaccines on the scheduled time. “We are also exploring getting vaccines from other countries wherever there are excess vaccines,” he added.
Further, the government is pursuing Pfizer to speed up the delivery of purchase orders of 200,000 Pfizer doses. “We are also processing the payment and it will arrive in the country by September,” said Lyonpo.
It was also learned that the Bangladesh government initially agreed to donate 200,000 doses of Moderna vaccines to Bhutan but had withdrawn commitment as it does not permit this under the COVAX facility once it is given to other countries.
Officials familiar with the vaccine follow-up say that the government is in dialogue with the Bangladesh government and exploring the possibilities of getting Moderna vaccines on a replacement basis to at least administer the second dose for children and adults who received Moderna as their first jab.
Health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo refused to comment on this front but she said they are looking for vaccine exchange possibilities with other countries. “Dialogues are happening with multiple donors to secure additional vaccines,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo added that while the vaccine is very difficult to secure, they are trying with multiple angles and strategies. “We are doing our best. We are giving 100 percent to make sure that we get it on time,” she said.
In addition, the health minister in the earlier interview said that the government has requested Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization ( GAVI ) to consider the requirement of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines for children instead of AstraZeneca that “we will be getting.”
Bhutan Times learned that the government is exploring taking up the vaccine request directly with the Moderna Company on their earlier commitment to donate 200,000 doses of vaccines in the context to facilitate real-world evidence exchange with Bhutan.
Meanwhile, as both Moderna and Pfizer are ongoing their clinical trial testing for children under 12, foreign minister Dr. Tandi Dorji said that the government is also targeting to secure vaccines for that age group so that it can be ready by the time the trial result is out.