A shot in the arm: foreign residents and their eligibility for a jab
Thailand’s foreign residents are often left scratching their heads at the confusing and sometimes apparently contradictory information on Covid-19 vaccines and their eligibility for a jab
While many Thais are talking about their Covid-19 vaccine choices, if indeed there are any, and vaccination schedules, a large number of expats have been left clueless as to whether they have access to vaccines and if so, which, when and how.
A blog post on Mahidol University’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases’ Thai Travel Clinic website dated April 4 has so far proved the most reliable source. The website provides basic information ranging from the vaccine brands that are licensed and available in Thailand, the importers, the target population of this vaccine, whether the vaccine is free for foreigners too, if it’s available in hospitals or clinics, and how expats living in Thailand can get their jabs.
The information includes the option of going back to their own country if they do not want to wait in Thailand. But with the pandemic showing no real signs of abating, travelling remains difficult and the medical appointment processes in their own countries, not to mention the quarantine requirements they would face on their return, make this impractical not to mention expensive.
Since that blogpost, an announcement by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has provided some light at the end of the tunnel. The CCSA confirmed recently that all people, including foreigners regardless of their nationality, would receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Other details, however, are not yet finalized though enquiries through the Covid 1422 hotline suggest that online registration for expats will open in July for appointments in August and beyond. The vaccine, no brand specified, will apparently be free although a doctor’s fee might be applicable.
Still, hundreds of more questions remain unanswered.
A study of 61 patients shows that people who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have achieved 96.7% immunity within a month, compared to those who had recovered from the disease for 1-2 months, who have 92.4% immunity.
A healthcare industry source said that some provinces already have clear plans on foreigners and vaccination. In provinces like Chonburi where tourism and the industrial sector are key economic drivers, the policy is clear: Priority groups to receive the vaccine are the elderly and people with some chronic diseases and health risks, then people in the tourism industry and those in the industrial sector, including expats. Next in the queue will be the general public. The schedule, however, depends on the availability of vaccines.
According to the National Vaccine Institute, more vaccines will be arriving soon. Compared to only 2.5 million doses in the past few months, 3.5 million doses will be delivered in May alone and the locally produced AstraZeneca should be online sometime in June. The government plans to obtain 100 million doses by the end of this year, sufficient to vaccinate 50 million people.
So far, approximately one million doses have found their way into arms with 400,000 people already having received their second shot. Vaccine registration for Thais and so-called ‘Pink Card’ holders, a type of Thai ID available to foreigners who meet certain criteria, opened on the Mor Phrom app on May 1 and reports have, for the main, been mainly positive, with hospital appointments given for June.
Since vaccine producers do not sell vaccines directly to private sector, but only through the government, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) has said it will act on their behalf. The GPO has to work closely with private hospitals on how many doses they need and then the GPO will place orders with the producers.
The combination of a new wave of COVID-19 and delayed vaccination is set to wreak more damage on Thailand’s economy, with people’s incomes falling further and business risks rising. Slow vaccination progress coupled with a surge of infections has prompted Kasikorn Research Centre to lower its growth projection for the Thai economy this year from 2.6 percent to 1.8 percent.
For Luci Standley, a British national who has lived and worked in Thailand for almost 40 years and is now retired, vaccination can’t come soon enough.
“I’m almost 70 and my husband is 83. We are both on medication for high blood pressure and therefore could well become seriously ill if we became infected with Covid. We are happy to leave the free vaccines to the Thai public and appreciate that the government is giving them priority, which is as it should be. I just hope the private hospitals are able to get in some stocks in the next few months. Neither of us has a preference for the brand of vaccine providing it is suitable for seniors and have no problem paying for it. That said, if no progress has been made on that front by the time Mor Phrom allows foreign residents to register and make appointments, I will definitely take that route,” she said, adding that she has found the lack of coherent information more frustrating than the slow roll-out of the vaccine programme.
Chris Sedlaczek, a 50-something Austrian living in central Thailand, agrees, telling Thai PBS World: “I’ll get the vaccine here in Thailand. Pfizer or Moderna would be my preference as both seem to provide the highest level of protection. Money is not an issue. I prefer to pay and leave free vaccines to people who need them.”
Asked whether he’d leave Thailand to get a jab, he said: “Although lots of time has been lost due to inactivity in procuring vaccines for the public, there’s no reason why I should search for inoculation outside Thailand.”
It was recently reported that Moderna has now submitted all the documents required to register with Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration. When approved, it will join Astra Zeneca, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson on the list of vaccines available for use. Approval of the Pfizer, Moderna and SputnikV vaccines is currently pending but once complete and orders delivered, should give a considerable boost to the vaccine effort.
While waiting for the vaccine license from the FDA, private hospitals are making significant moves too. Many have conducted surveys of vaccine needs by publishing online survey forms. Customers are asked to fill the questionnaire if they are interested in receiving the vaccine through these private hospitals. The survey enables these private hospitals to work out how much vaccine they should buy and plan for the service.
Seeing private hospitals as their last resort, a large number of people rushed to complete the surveys with the result that these came to an abrupt end as the interest was simply too high.
While the vaccine is given free by the government, a few private hospitals have come up with special packages to add value to their vaccination service. Some launched new health check-up programs that include blood tests and a one-night stay at the hospital ostensibly to monitor for any undesirable side effects following the shot. Prices for the service range from 10,000 baht up to 20,000 baht.
“For a retired foreigner living in Thailand, this is too much,” commented one expat who has lived in Thailand for more than 30 years.
In the meantime, foreigners can only hope that more vaccines arrive and these become available through the private sector, access to the shots will increase.
by Veena Thoopkrajae, with additional reporting by Kanokchan Pattanapichai