August 17, 2021

The Story Behind the World’s Fastest Vaccine Roll Out

On July 20th, Bhutan began the roll out of the world’s fastest inoculation program, reaching 90% of its eligible adult population with a second dose within one week. While there is no doubt Bhutan’s small population made things easier, it still managed to vaccinate numerous remote and geographically isolated communities that make up this mountainous kingdom, within that one week. To do so, vaccination teams consisting of a doctor, a nurse, two health assistants and several volunteers, carried vaccines, oxygen cylinders, regulators, medical equipment and emergency health kits for days on foot, often walking up to 12 hours a day. Where snowfall or monsoonal rains prevented the teams from accessing remote areas, Bhutan despatched the teams via helicopter, ensuring each and every citizen was reached. It was well co-ordinated, it was comprehensive but it was also compassionate.

Bhutan has undeniably benefited during this time from a deeply compassionate leadership of the type not often seen in the world today. With great empathy, His Majesty the King has spent the last year reaching out to the most vulnerable, the most in need and the most at risk. He has walked to remote villages to ensure health precautions were in place, spent months in towns bordering India with the highest number of cases, visited patients in hospital and spent time with volunteers and medical staff to boost morale and thank them for their sacrifice. He has shown the kind of enlightened leadership the world is so in need of and has united the country in the process – with millions of Bhutanese turning out voluntarily for vaccination when called on to do so. As His Majesty noted in an address to the nation,

“…we must strive for a caring leadership so that as the world and country changes, as our nation’s goals change, our foremost priority will always remain the happiness and well- being of our people—including the generations to come after us.”

Citizens of Bhutan wearing masks during COVID
View of the Gangtey Valley, Bhutan
Implementation of COVID regulations in Bhutan

His Majesty also established a corps of 30,000 citizen volunteers, known as ‘Desuups’ or the ‘guardians of peace’, boosting the efforts of the 350 doctors and 3000 health professionals in the country. They have helped amplify public health messaging and assisted with wide-spread public testing, surveillance and contact tracing. Bhutan has also benefited from the experience of its elected leaders, with quite remarkably, a trained epidemiologist (and graduate of Yale) as Health Minister and a Prime Minister and Foreign Minister who are qualified doctors. 

Bhutan is now focused on vaccinating children between the ages of 12-17, with more than 30,000 children having already received their first dose. All of this bodes well for Bhutan when the time comes to embrace the joys of travel again. This tiny country has proven itself capable of managing a crisis efficiently and effectively and when a weary and worn out world starts traveling again Bhutan will be ready to welcome it with kindness, care and compassion.

Bhutanese festivals

Celebrating Tshechu In Gangtey Valley

There is a certain time every year when Bhutan comes alive in a vivid display of colour, music, dance and motion. This is a time when Bhutanese from all walks of life down tools, put on their finest, most elaborate clothes (exquisite hand woven kiras for women and ghos for men) and gather together for a day of joyful celebration.

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