The digital COVID vaccine system in Bhutan that ensures no one is left behind
by UNDP Bhutan | Originally posted on October 1, 2021
After Bhutan’s remarkably rapid and successful COVID-19 campaign of vaccinating more than 70 percent of the country’s population, managed by the innovative digital Bhutan Vaccine System supported by UNDP, the country turns its focus to ensure that no children between the ages of 12 and 17 are left behind in being vaccinated.
The students, all between 12–17 years old were lined up for their first dose of the vaccine, procured by the Royal Government of Bhutan earlier this month.
The vaccination rollout for the children, which ran from 18 to 21 September, saw 99 percent of the children in the 12–17 age group receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A total of 75,205 children received doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
To ensure smooth and efficient rollout of the vaccines, soon after the vaccines landed in the country, district health officers advised local governments, district administration and schools to inform parents to register their children for the vaccine on the UNDP supported Bhutan Vaccine System.
The Bhutan Vaccine System is an innovative digital system that registers, tracks and manages COVID vaccine beneficiaries that was put in place for Bhutan’s remarkably successful COVID-19 vaccine campaign with support by UNDP, in close collaboration with WHO and UNICEF. The system has been critical in ensuring real-time data for an equitable, effective, safe and efficient rollout of vaccine doses, ensuring quick delivery and comprehensive coverage. The key features of the system include monitoring stock, providing pre-registration, generating vaccination schedules, monitoring and tracking side effects following vaccination, as well as generating real-time reports and producing vaccine certificates.
To help students who could not register themselves or had parents who were not literate, teachers took on the task to register them. While some districts started their vaccination campaigns on 18 September, Wangdue administered it on 20 and 21 September, following a local festival.
Behind the success of the rollout was the concerted effort of various stakeholders, including the local government, health centres, hospital staff, health ministry and schools.
At the Bajo high school pre-screening desk, teachers volunteered to check if students were registered for the vaccine. Then the health workers took over and screened the children by asking a series of questions related to health, medication and allergies, which were entered into the Bhutan Vaccine System, before they were vaccinated by nurses.
Outside, students who received their doses waited the 30-minute observation time, before being cleared to go home. Those who reported adverse events after immunization were attended to, although no serious ones were reported.
“Some parents registered their children for the vaccine and higher-grade students had registered themselves,” he said, adding that those who could not register themselves at home were assisted by the class teachers.
“Except for a few cases, where students couldn’t remember their citizenship identity card numbers, it went smoothly,” he said, noting the Bhutan Vaccine System was easy to use and essential to the success of the vaccinations.
In Jalla Primary School, about two hours from Bajo, officials went above and beyond to ensure no child was left behind. “Owing to access issues because of bad road conditions and unavailability of vehicles to transport the children to a vaccine centre, two health staff from the Jalla primary health care centre were sent to vaccinate the children,” said district health officer Tshering Zangmo. “The local government office provided a vehicle to transport the health care workers and the vaccines.”
Principal of Jalla school, Namgyal Dorji, said that without the Citizenship Identity Card (CID) numbers in school records, students were registered using the date of birth provided to the school. In the Bhutan Vaccine System, where CID numbers are unavailable, registration can be done using the ‘others’ option.
However, to confirm that the children were not below 12 years of age on the vaccination day, the teachers contacted family members and asked for the CID numbers. By using the CID number for registration, it was found that some of the students were not eligible for the vaccine. Through the Bhutan Vaccine System, which is linked to the census and registry information, the real birth dates and years could be traced and established with accuracy.
With the rollout successfully completed, health ministry officials are currently going through the data registered in the Bhutan Vaccine System, and health workers will now vaccinate any remaining vulnerable children who were missed during the campaign at their homes, leaving no one behind.