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New York Times

How the small kingdom of Bhutan vaccinated most of the world

Thimphu, Bhutan — The Lunana region of Bhutan is far from the standards of the isolated Himalayan kingdom. About twice as large as New York City, it borders western China and is home to glacial lakes and the highest mountains in the world. It is not accessible by car. Still, most people who live there are already vaccinated with the coronavirus vaccine. Sign up for the morning newsletter from the New York Times Vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine. Arrived by helicopter last month and distributed by healthcare professionals who walked from village to village in the snow and ice. Vaccination proceeded in 13 settlements in the area, even after Yak damaged some of the field tents that volunteers set up for patients. “I first vaccinated and proved to my fellow villagers that the vaccine did not cause death and was safe to take,” said the leader of the village of Lunana, who goes by one name in her 50s. Pema said on the phone. “Then everyone here took the jab.” The Lunana campaign is part of a quiet vaccine success story in one of Asia’s poorest countries. As of Saturday, Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom that emphasizes civil well-being over national prosperity, had initially vaccinated more than 478,000 people, more than 60% of its population. The Ministry of Health said this month that more than 93% of eligible adults received their first shot. Most of the initial doses of Bhutan were given at approximately 1,200 vaccination centers over the week from late March to early April. As of Saturday, 63 vaccinations per 100 people were the sixth highest in the world, according to the New York Times database. The ratio was higher than that of the United Kingdom and the United States, more than seven times that of neighboring India, and almost six times the world average. Bhutan is also ahead of some other less populated, geographically isolated countries such as Iceland and the Maldives. Bhutan’s Minister of Health Dasho Dechen Wangmo said his success was “leadership and guidance” from the king of the country, national solidarity, the general lack of vaccine hesitation, and “we make the most of our services.” I thought it was due to the “primary health care system that made it possible.” A remote part of the country. “Because it is a small country with a population of just over 750,000, a two-week vaccination campaign was feasible,” Dechen Wangmo said in an email. “I faced minor logistical problems during vaccination, but everything was manageable.” All doses used so far have been donated by the Government of India. The drug, known as Covishield, is manufactured by the Indian Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. The Bhutanese government states that it plans a second dose about 8-12 weeks after the first round, in line with the AstraZeneca vaccine guidelines. Will Parks, UNICEF’s Bhutan national team representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in the first round, “Not only the press, but the promotion of vaccination was implemented from the plan.” “It included participation from the highest authority to the community.” “He said. The campaign has partially relied on an army of volunteers known as the Defenders of Peace, operating under the authority of Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgel Wanchuck. In Lunana, eight volunteers helped set up outdoor tents to carry oxygen cylinders from village to village, where Karma Tashi, a member of the government’s four vaccination team, said. Tanks were a precautionary measure when villagers responded unfavorably to shooting. To save time, the team vaccinated during the day and walked between villages at night. It often took 10-14 hours at a time. Yak damage to the tent wasn’t the only hiccup. Some villagers were initially unvaccinated because they were busy harvesting barley or were worried about possible side effects. “But after we talked to them about their interests, they agreed,” Tashi said. As of April 12, 464 of the 800 or so inhabitants of Lunana had been given the first dose, according to government data. The population includes minors who are not vaccinated. Medical care in Bhutan, a landlocked country slightly larger than Maryland and bordering Tibet, is free. Between 1960 and 2014, life expectancy there more than doubled to 69.5 years, according to the World Health Organization. Immunization levels in recent years have exceeded 95%. However, Bhutan’s health care system is “almost independent” and patients in need of expensive or advanced treatment are often sent to India or Thailand at government expense, the National University of Singapore’s Thai Health Care Dr. Yot Teerawattananon, an economist, said. Bhutan’s government committee meets once a week to decide which patients to send abroad for treatment, Yot said. He said the committee, which focuses on brain and heart surgery, kidney transplants, and cancer treatment, is informally known as the “death panel.” “If that happens, they don’t think they can cope with the surge in severe COVID cases, so it’s important that they prioritize COVID vaccination,” he said, referring to Bhutanese health authorities. It was. Bhutan reports only less than 1,000 coronavirus infections and one death. Prior to the pandemic, the strict borders of world standards have been closed for a year, with a few exceptions, and anyone entering the country must be quarantined for 21 days. This includes Lotay Tshering, the prime minister who was first vaccinated during quarantine after visiting Bangladesh last month. He has been supporting vaccination efforts on his official Facebook page for the past few weeks. “I’m closely tracking vaccination campaigns on the ground, so my days are dotted with virtual meetings in many areas that need attention,” surgeon Zelling said in early April. writing. “So far, with your prayers and blessings, everything is going well.” Lunana’s economy relies on the livestock and harvest of the so-called Cordyceps sinensis, which is highly regarded as an aphrodisiac in China. People speak Dzongkha, national and local dialects. Last year, the drama “Lunana: Yak in the Classroom” became the second film chosen to represent Bhutan at the Academy Awards. Filmed using solar cells, the cast included local villagers. Kaka, the headman of Lunana, by name, said that the most important part of the vaccination campaign is in the sky, not on the ground. “Without the chopper, there would be no access road, so getting the vaccine would have been a problem,” he said. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company