By Vince Crockenberg
In the photos:
- Erick getting his dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
- Marker on Erick’s thumb indicates he got his shot.
- Residents of Changphle village in the Bumthang District of Bhutan line up to get their COVID-19 shots.
- Erick and two of his Mountain Hazlenuts colleagues, Jigme Norbu, left, and Dorji Gyeltsen, middle, pointing to their sore injection sites.
On March 24, the Kingdom of Bhutan, a small, mountainous country between India and China, began a campaign to vaccinate its entire adult population against COVID-19 with Astra-Zeneca shots donated by India. On April 5, the Bhutanese government announced it had provided the first dose of the vaccine to 468,297 people out of an eligible population of 500,328; the second dose will follow in eight to 12 weeks, depending on when additional doses from India arrive.
Among those vaccinated was Charlotter Erick Crockenberg, who is working in Bhutan with U.S.-based company Mountain Hazlenuts, the largest private employer in the country. He, along with thousands of Bhutanese, traveled to schools and public buildings throughout the country to receive their shots, with some vaccinators walking for days through the mountains to reach people in remote villages. As with all such public events in Bhutan, the initial rollout of the campaign began with gho-clad public officials and religious leaders chanting Buddhist prayers.
Although roughly half the country lives below the poverty line, the country has provided free healthcare for all citizens since 1971. According to the World Health Organization, programs are in place to address the country’s public health challenges, which may help explain the speed with which the vaccinations took place.
Bhutan identified its first case of COVID on March 6, 2020, a 76-year-old American tourist who had traveled into the country from India. On March 22, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck closed the country’s land borders, and on March 31 the prime minister extended the quarantine period in Bhutan from 14 to 21 days.
To date, Bhutan has recorded 891 cases of COVID-19, and just one death, a 34-year-old who suffered from liver disease and died in January.
Bhutan Facts and Figures
Total population: 754,000
Size: 14,824 square miles, slightly bigger than Maryland and half-again as large as Vermont (9,616 square miles)
Government: Constitutional monarchy, established in 2008
State religion: Mahayana Buddhism