November 10, 2022

By Dawa Sherpa

When the world was scrambling for vaccines, the Bhutan Foundation played an instrumental role in securing them through Moderna, Inc. Our relationship with the US Department of State allowed us to further strategize with Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ultimately gaining their support in procuring the vaccines for Bhutan.

Bhutan is an exemplary nation in how it planned, strategized, and implemented a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Their approach included a dedicated team, known as the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, which monitored adverse events following immunization (AEFI). In addition, Bhutan developed the Bhutan Vaccination System to register and capture all detailed information on demographics, AEFI, vaccine types, and time of vaccination for the entire country. Considering these initiatives, Bhutan is an excellent environment for conducting detailed studies on the efficacy of these vaccines, particularly mix and match vaccinations that use heterologous regimens.

The Bhutan Foundation initiated a project with Moderna to utilize the unique opportunity that Bhutan presented. The project aimed to generate greater scientific evidence for vaccination studies and to strengthen Bhutan’s laboratory and research capacity at the Royal Center for Disease Control, the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMSB), Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, and the Ministry of Health. Through this grant, the Foundation has purchased lab equipment, such as two Cobas E411Analyzer Machines, ElecsysR AntiSARSCoV2 S assay equipment, test kits, and other reagents.

As of August 2022, Bhutanese researchers have tested a total of 9,500 samples. These include day-of, 14, 28, and some 90-day post-second-dose samples. They also completed a collection of immunogenicity data and an analysis of the results for both adolescents and adults. The preliminary results have been shared with Moderna. According to Dr. Sithar Dorji, project director, “The most exciting part of this project is the collaboration between Moderna, a renowned pharmaceutical company in the US with our University, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences, for which we are thankful to the Bhutan Foundation. We are excited to be working together and building local capacity to conduct research and advance our vaccine technology. This project will immensely benefit Bhutan as it can be applied to other diseases or similar pandemic situations that may arise in the future.”

From Stronger Alliances: Bhutan Foundation Annual Report 2022