Tiny kingdom of Bhutan vaccinates 93% of adults in 16 days

When plotted on a graph, the curve of Bhutan’s COVID-19 vaccination drive shoots upwards from the first day, crossing Israel, the United States, Bahrain and other countries known for vaccinating people rapidly.

Those countries took months to reach where they are, painstakingly strengthening their vaccination campaigns in the face of rising coronavirus cases. But the story of Bhutan’s vaccination campaign is nearly finished — just 16 days after it began.

Since March 27, nearly 93 per cent of adults have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the tiny Himalayan kingdom wedged between India and China. Overall, the country has vaccinated 62 per cent of its 800,000 people.

The rapid rollout of the vaccine puts the tiny nation just behind Seychelles, which has given jabs to 66 per cent of its population of nearly 100,000 people.

People wash their hands before entering their office as a precaution against the coronavirus in Thimpu on April 12. (The Associated Press)

Its small population helped Bhutan move fast, but the success has also been attributed to its dedicated citizen volunteers, known as “desuups,” and established cold chain storage used during earlier vaccination drives.

Bhutan received its first 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from neighbouring India in January, but the shots were distributed beginning in late March to coincide with auspicious dates in Buddhist astrology.

910 cases, 1 death

The first dose was administered by and given to a woman born in the Year of the Monkey, accompanied by chants of Buddhist prayers.

“Let this small step of mine today help us all prevail through this illness,” the recipient, 30-year-old Ninda Dema, was quoted saying in the country’s Kuensel newspaper.

People wearing face masks cross a street in Thimpu on April 12. All schools and educational institutions in the country are open and are monitored for compliance with COVID-19 protocols, a health official said. (The Associated Press)

Dr. Pandup Tshering, secretary to the Ministry of Health, said jabs were still being provided to those who could not get vaccinated during the campaign period. Tshering said the country had enough doses to cover its entire population.

Bhutan has recorded 910 coronavirus infections and one death since the pandemic began.

Bhutan has a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all people arriving in the country. All schools and educational institutions are open and are monitored for compliance with COVID-19 protocols, Tshering said.

Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas. But the country has transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a democratic, constitutional monarchy.

The second doses of the vaccines are expected to start being administered after eight weeks, according to Bhutan’s Health Ministry.

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