Updated: August 2, 2021 10:00:37 pm
The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, nestled between India and China, has managed to fully vaccinate a major chunk of its eligible population against Covid-19 in just a week.
A recent health bulletin update by the Royal Government of Bhutan stated that it had vaccinated 90.2 per cent of the eligible population with both doses of the vaccine during the drive held between July 20 to 26. Overall, 61.8 per cent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.
UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Will Parks, in a statement on July 27 congratulated Bhutan for executing “arguably the fastest vaccination campaign during a pandemic”.
In April, the country had similarly raced ahead of the world in vaccinating 93 per cent of its adult population with the first dose.
What led to Bhutan’s achievement?
This can be attributed to several factors like home-visits for the elderly and those disabled, drives at inaccessible hilly terrains, and a strong messaging system to counter misinformation and encourage vaccination.
“In particular, the Royal Government of Bhutan made exhaustive efforts to reach all target groups. Health workers organized vaccinations at community centres but also conducted home-visits to vaccinate the elderly and people with disabilities and trekked to higher altitudes to reach the nomadic herders. Children aged 12-17 years in the high-risk areas along the southern border towns are also receiving Covid-19 vaccines,” Parks said.
As many as 4,868 health workers across 1,217 centres and 2,161 Desuung volunteers were employed for the mass vaccination drive, according to the official health bulletin.
The Desuung volunteers, which translates to ‘Guardians of Peace’, are local citizens responsible for delivering vaccines, helping conduct mass testing drives, and encouraging people to get the jab.
Ap Reiki, a local leader in Tseza, Dagana district explains why we should get the COVID-19 vaccine. Local leaders are playing a critical role in helping people take informed decisions.
— UNICEF Bhutan (@UNICEFBhutan) July 25, 2021
News agency AP reported that while Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lotay Tshering, had been an ‘early advocate’ of the jab, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck had toured the country to raise awareness and dispel fears around the vaccine. Along with this, the government addressed questions from the public over Facebook to combat any hesitancy.
Since Moderna vaccine is being used for the first time in the country, prime minister and volunteers took the vaccine before the nationwide rollout by way of sharing experience.
The prime minister will remain in observation for 30 minutes. pic.twitter.com/C362li1Oyp
— PM Bhutan (@PMBhutan) July 17, 2021
A collaborative effort
Global collaborative efforts in ensuring the availability of vaccines and an effective cold storage system also boosted the vaccination drive.
Bhutan received 5,00,000 doses from the United States through the COVAX program. Other countries like Denmark, China, and Croatia, among others have also donated jabs to Bhutan.
India had earlier provided the country 5,50,000 doses of AstraZeneca, during its vaccination drive for the first dose.
“UNICEF’s expertise in securing and installing eight walk-in coolers and two ultra-cold chain fridges across the country while supporting risk communication and community engagement activities were catalytic in preparing for the rapid mass vaccination campaign,” Parks added in his statement last week.
According to experts, AP reported, Bhutan’s success in comparison to countries in South Asia highlights the strength of government efforts and community outreach over just the availability of vaccines.