Govt. to procure Oxford COVID vaccine apart from COVAX facility

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India approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine &- Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, the country’s first indigenous vaccine for emergency use on January 3

The government is looking forward to procure the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine developed by Serum Institute of India apart from the COVAX facility.

“The Indian government has assured to provide vaccines when it is released and we are hopeful,” said Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering adding that Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be transported easily and is affordable.

While through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations’ COVAX facility, Bhutan would be getting vaccines for 20% of the population.

India approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, the country’s first indigenous vaccine for emergency use on January 3.

However, experts have raised concerns over the emergency approval of Covaxin as there are doubts raised on its efficacy due to the fact that it has not completed the phase III trials.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus, known as adenovirus from chimpanzees, vector technology that has been used in experimental vaccines given safely to thousands of people for diseases ranging from Tuberculosis, malaria, Middle East respiratory syndrome and Ebola.

Lyonchhen said globally there are four vaccines that are approved for emergency use however, vaccines used in America would be difficult to procure given the thousand millions demand of doses to a production capacity of only 100 to 200mn doses.

“All the developing countries in the world are expecting the vaccines from India and we expect too,” said Lyonchhen.

Moreover, he said upon the Royal Command, the government is working closely with donor partners and production firms to secure the vaccine as soon as possible adding that government officials and experts have been in discussion for the last six months and have come up with the vaccine protocols, risk and laws associated with securing the vaccines.

Lyonchhen also said the government has already allocated the funds to procure the vaccines. “We would need around 1mn to 1.2mn doses of vaccines to vaccinate the whole Bhutanese population,” he added.

The health ministry has identified about 80,000 frontliners, health workers, security personnel who would receive the first phase of the vaccines.

Further, the elderly and those with co-morbid conditions would receive the vaccine in the second phase and business-people and public transportation drivers in the third phase and finally the general population.

Lyonchhen said the government has already identified health workers and locations, if the vaccination has to be carried out in a five-day or seven-day phase per week time since it would not take a month for Bhutan.

Lyonchhen assured that we should not fully depend on the vaccines since the efficacy of vaccine on Bhutanese population and the period of time the vaccine protects from the virus is not known.

Coronavirus vaccination campaign has already begun in many European Union countries, the United States of America, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and India among others.

More than 13mn doses have been administered in 40 countries, according to Our World in Data, a global tracking website affiliated with Oxford University.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu

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