Amid chanting of Buddhist prayers in Thimphu, 30-year-old Ninda Dema became the first Bhutanese to be administered with the India-made Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday
As Bhutan’s national vaccination drive commenced Saturday morning, the Himalayan Kingdom is all set to be amongst the first countries to vaccinate almost all of its eligible population with the gift of 550,000 ‘Made in India’ Covid-19 vaccines.
Bhutanese Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji and the Indian Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj, offered thousand butter lamps at the Semtokha Dzong as the nationwide vaccination campaign rolled out this morning.
Under India's highly successful 'Vaccine Maitri' initiative - and in accordance with the 'Neighbourhood First' policy enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi - Bhutan, along with Maldives, was the first among neighbours and partners to receive a gift of 150,000 doses of Covishield vaccine on January 20. India's gift of second consignment of 400,000 doses Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Thimpu on March 22, thus enabling Bhutan to launch its nationwide vaccination drive from today. The entire eligible population of Bhutan will be inoculated with the first dose of the India-made covid vaccine.
"I wish to thank India for the dispatch of 60 million doses of ‘Made in India’ Covid vaccines to 70+ countries including 200,000 doses to UN peacekeepers,” commented Gerald Daly, Resident Coordinator for the United Nations in Bhutan and the Head of UN Security Bhutan, last week.
Indeed, the world is one family!— India in Bhutan (@Indiainbhutan) March 23, 2021
400,000 doses of 'Made in India' COVID-19 vaccines reach Bhutan.#VaccineMaitri #IndiaBhutanFriendship #PromiseKept@narendramodi @MEAIndia @IndianDiplomacy @DrSJaishankar @PBNS_India @PIB_India @WIONews @KuenselOnline @BBSBhutan pic.twitter.com/zFmaa4FRIa
“PM @NarendraModi always emphasizes on the policy of Neigbourhood First and the #VaccineMaitri initiative is a shining manifestation of that policy. I thank PM Modi & the Govt. of India for making the Covid vaccines available," added AKM Shahidul Karim, the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Bhutan.
The Buddhist kingdom had chosen March 27 for the Covid-19 vaccination rollout in consultation with the Zhung Dratshang, the central monk body.
Amid chanting of Buddhist prayers at Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School in Thimphu, 30-year-old Ninda Dema, an intellectual property officer with the country's Economic Affairs ministry, became the first Bhutanese to be administered with the India-made vaccine at 9.30 am today.
Local media reported that Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering had announced Dema as the 'chosen one' as according to the Buddhist astrology, she was born in the year of the Monkey (1992).
Bhutan's Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering was the second one to receive his first jab at 9:40 am at the quarantine facility in Khasadrapchu, followed by his 80-year old father and mother to build the confidence. Tshering, who returned to the country on Thursday after participating in Bangladesh's 50th anniversary celebrations, is undergoing the 21-day mandatory facility quarantine.
Over 50 family members of PM Tshering, including spouse Dr Ugyen Dema who is a breastfeeding mother of a one-year-old, received the vaccine at the Lungtenzampa school vaccination centre.
The PM said that it is perhaps the first time in the world that cabinet ministers and all other parliament representatives chose to get vaccinated around the same time on the same day.
"Received my vaccine today along with the nationwide roll out. Will complete entire population within a week. Thank you Narendra Modi ji and GOI Dr S Jaishankar and Ruchira Kamboj," tweeted Minister for Foreign Affairs Minister Dorji after receiving his first shot of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, on a tour of the east, met with those receiving the vaccination in Mongar. He also interacted with Karma Pema Wangmo, the first person to receive the vaccine in Dzongkhag today.
Former PM Tshering Tobgay said he is "overcome with gratitude" as the fog of the Covid pandemic begins to retreat in the country.
"It is amazing that we are getting vaccinated against Covid-19 barely a year into the pandemic during which time the world erupted into widespread fear and anxiety... I also thank PM Modi, the government and people of India for their support throughout the pandemic year, and for very generously gifting each and every person in Bhutan the precious Covishield vaccine," he said in a statement.
After airlifting the vaccine to the remote eastern parts of the country and also transporting through refrigerated vans to the rest of the districts, Bhutan is expected to administer the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine to all its eligible population, estimated at 533,558, in a week.
(All images courtesy: Embassy of India, Thimphu and Bhutan PM)