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Opposition asks govt. to clarify on vaccine approach

Prime Minister responds in equal measures

By Tandin Wangchuk

In the wake of the government proposing a โ€˜mix-and-matchโ€™ vaccine approach for the second jab, the Opposition Party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, has asked the government to clarify on this approach given that the WHO has still not approved of this method of inoculation.

DPT said the Government should clarify the doubts and apprehensions hovering over the issue of mix and match of COVID-19 vaccines, and that the government and the opposition have the duty to provide complete information and transparency to the people.

โ€œUnder the peerless guidance and leadership of His Majesty the King, the Government has made commendable success with both sourcing of vaccines and vaccination drive. We remain appreciative of the Governmentโ€™s efforts,โ€ DPT said.

However, the Opposition Party said with the widespread news on apprehensions and concerns in international arena on the mix and match of vaccines, from respectable experts, institutions and countries, they feel the concerns and apprehensions of our people have become genuine of recent.

The Opposition say the news of the government opting for the โ€˜mix-and-matchโ€™ vaccine approach despite WHOโ€™s concerns has further exacerbated the issue as people are already skeptical of the method. 

โ€œTherefore, we advise the Government to inform the nation on its findings and professional views on those claims and apprehensions, and provide necessary sensitization and guidance to the people prior to administration of the second dose,โ€ DPT wrote.

The DPT query comes at a time when the nation is gearing for the second round of inoculations which is scheduled for 20th of this month. The Prime Minister and a select cohort of well-wishers, however, received their second jabs yesterday in the capital.

Prior to receiving his jab, the PM said all vaccines that have emergency use approval are equally safe. But on immune protection, even if by a margin, the emerging literature points towards a better immune response for those who have received mRNA vaccine as second dose to AstraZeneca as first dose.

Lyonchhen said while this is one of the heterologous regimen, it does not mean homologous mode of vaccination are ineffective, which is why it is also valid to have same vaccine for the second dose.

โ€œThus, with the available evolving evidence, our recommendation is to take Moderna vaccine as second dose for those who received AstraZeneca as first dose,โ€ the prime minister said, adding that AstraZeneca will also be made available as second dose for those who insist on it for personal reasons.

The PM said that given the sufficient doses, the first timers can receive either AstraZeneca, Sinopharm or Moderna. For this group of people, the second dose can be Moderna and Sinopharm vaccine in four weeks or AstraZeneca in 12 to 16 weeks in homologous mode. Heterologous options will also be provided based on availability.

Lyonchhen said a separate package designed to allocate the limited stock of Pfizer available with us to cover children between 12 and 17 years who are living in areas of outbreak Phuentsholing and Samtse, travelling for treatment outside and travelling for studies outside.

โ€œWhile studies are underway, we are also waiting for evidence to emerge in the coming days for use of Moderna in children below 17 years, for which works are already underway to ensure timely vaccination,โ€ PM Dr Lotay Tshering said.

The PM also shared a few examples of countries that have adopted similar mode of vaccination, like Canada, Germany, France and Scandinavian countries where the method has been particularly well received.

Lyonchhen also added that the decisions are based on the evolving trends of efficacy, availability of vaccines, and choices made by decision makers and vaccine recipients.

He said that we are fortunate that we are also able to offer similar modalities and requested everyone to pay more importance to getting vaccinated than delving into the choice of vaccines. 

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said the delta-variant of COVID-19 is more contagious and urged everyone to rise above the circumstances to get vaccinated and add up the number that gives us โ€œherd immunityโ€ faster. For that, we need to vaccinate an arbitrary minimum 80 percent of the total population, in the shortest possible time.

โ€œThis will give us the much-desired opportunity to reduce COVID-19 from the public health hazard status to an individual health problem. Thereon, we can design personal protection from COVID-19 like any other disease, since it is here to stay. This is also with the hope that there wonโ€™t be emergence of a non-responsive variant,โ€ Lyonchhen said.

Finally, the PM asserted that vaccination, and subsequently herd immunity, is the only way to enter the โ€œnew normalโ€ era sooner. However, he said that as we consider post-vaccination protocols, same restrictions will continue to be imposed on those who are not vaccinated, given the risk they pose to themselves or others.

โ€œFor those who read this message, I request you to take a little extra trouble to reach out to people who will not have access or be able to comprehend the details. Now is the time to play our part in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our nation from the pandemic. This act of unity, I am convinced, is a great service to the nation,โ€ he said. 

Meanwhile, the prime minister promised to personally respond to individual queries regarding the vaccine method if any individuals were doubtful or had fears lingering in their minds.

As directed by the Zhung Dratshang, the nationwide rollout for the second jab will begin on Tuesday.

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