Bhutan may be small. When it comes to giving vaccinations, though, they’ve outshone even the most powerful nations. Many countries struggle to keep new cases at bay and continue administering vaccines. But Bhutan’s vaccination campaign is nearly finished—just 16 days after it began.
With a population of 800,000, Bhutan is a tiny landlocked Himalayan kingdom wedged between India and China. It is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas. In 2008, the country transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a democratic, constitutional monarchy.
Bhutan received its first 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from neighboring India in January. But officials held onto the shots until late March. They wanted vaccinations to coincide with Buddhist superstition regarding important dates.
Thirty-year-old Ninda Dema received the first shot. She said, “Let this small step of mine today help us all prevail through this illness.”
Once Bhutan decided to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, its vaccination drive progressed rapidly. It’s a reminder that God can use the “foolish in the world to shame the wise” and the “weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) Bhutan has now surpassed Israel, the United States, Bahrain, and other countries known for speedy vaccinations. Those countries took months to reach their current levels of vaccinations. Bhutanese health officials have already vaccinated 62% of the country’s citizens and nearly 93% of the adult population since March 27.
The rapid rollout of the vaccine puts the tiny nation just behind Seychelles, an East Africa island nation. That country has given jabs to 66% of its population of nearly 100,000 people.
Having a small population helped Bhutan move fast. But dedicated citizen volunteers, known as “desuups,” deserve much of the credit. Another advantage is the country’s established cold chain storage system from previous vaccination drives. (For more about cold chain storage, read “Chilly Vaccine Challenges”.)
Dr. Pandup Tshering is secretary to Bhutan’s Ministry of Health. He says jabs are still being provided to those who could not get vaccinated during the campaign period. He also says the country has enough doses to cover its entire population.
Bhutan has a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all people arriving in the country. All schools are open and are monitored for compliance with COVID-19 rules, Tshering says. Bhutan has recorded 910 coronavirus infections and just one death since the pandemic began.
(Face masks dangle outside a shop in Thimpu, Bhutan, on April 12, 2021. AP)