By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Thousands of Bhutanese travelled to schools and public buildings for vaccination on Saturday as the Himalayan kingdom launched its biggest inoculation drive against COVID-19 with the AstraZeneca shots provided by neighbouring India.
Ninda Dema, a 30-year-old woman born in the year of the Monkey as per the Buddhist astrology, became the country’s first to receive the shot at a school-turned vaccination centre in the capital Thimphu, an event that was televised live.
Ninda, a bureaucrat, folded the sleeve of her jacket and pressed her palms in traditional gesture of greetings and prayers as she received the dose from a masked nurse amid lighting of butter lamps and chanting of Buddhist prayers. The nurse was also born in the same year of the Monkey.
Buddist years are named after 12 animals like goat, rooster, pig and religious followers believe that people born in the year of the Monkey are inventive and can solve even the most difficult problems rather easily.
“Let this small step of mine today help us all prevail through this illness,” Ninda was quoted by the Kuensel newspaper as saying after being selected to take the first jab.
Bhutan has been able to slow the spread of the virus with early screening and monitoring at entry points, testing and sealing of borders.
Total infections stand at 870 with one death from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to government data.
In the week-long campaign the majority-Buddhist nation, tucked between China and India, hopes to inoculate more than half a million people who have registered for being vaccinated.
A country of about 800,000 people Bhutan received 150,000 doses of the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India in January. But unlike neighbouring Nepal that has suspended the campaign due to the lack of vaccines, authorities in Bhutan waited for 400,000 more shots that were provided this month to begin the campaign in one go.
The scenic country, which is heavily dependent on high-end tourists, is famous for its “gross national happiness” index as an alternative to gross domestic product to indicate real economic progress or development.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Michael Perry)