Endgame. Whose endgame?
Intensifying vaccination drama in Thailand is taking place against an intriguing international backdrop featuring an apparent race between the West on one side and a Chinese-Russian alliance on the other to pump vaccines into the third world, which is being threatened seriously by COVID-19 at the moment.
Call it a subplot in the main theme if you will. Thailand is caught in a peculiar situation where Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is baring his arm in public, like American and other world leaders, to receive a jab and encourage hesitant but high-risk people to get vaccinated in the process whereas the country is still far from getting enough supplies for the entire population.
Prayut and the Public Health Ministry are virtually begging people deemed eligible by great risk factors _ old ages and diseases that make them susceptible to the virus _ to register for vaccination. At the same time, a lot of Thais are waiting for vaccines with more and more scare and less and less patience. Through all this, the parliamentary opposition and the anti-establishment movement have been drumming up criticism against what they dub ineffective vaccine management to add to their uproar over other issues. Female protest leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul has been infected, and while it remains unclear as to where and how, the number of cases in prisons nationwide have become hair-raising.
As a results, Thais are scolding both the government and its rivals, getting increasingly fearful of the virus and yet doubting effectiveness of available vaccines at the same time. The real stakeholders know a game is definitely going on, but are not sure who to blame and by how much.
Switching to a bigger picture, Beijing and Moscow have reportedly joined hands to increase production of Sputnik V, a Russian vaccine not heard much on Western news outlets but has somehow been approved for use by some 60 countries. This Russian-China alliance is emerging amid charges that rich, western countries are hoarding vaccines, resulting in oversupplies for their own citizens at the expense of poor nations, some of them are being seriously threatened.
Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul approved walk-in COVID-19 vaccination facilities in all provinces today (Wednesday), hoping to inoculate at least 70% of the population. The approval came as the government’s COVID-19 vaccination management committee convened for the second time this year.
Even the World Health Organisation is deploring what it describes as a “shocking imbalance.” As America offers free beer, free donuts and free rides to encourage reluctant people to get vaccinated, about one in 500 has received a vaccine in poor countries on average. The percentage between vaccine receivers and those not getting shots in rich countries is one in four.
The WHO itself is not above criticism. In fact, a very recent high-level report has placed much of the blame on the organization, accusing it of declaring a global emergency too late, and that “slow response” led to many devastating others of governments around the world. But the report, commissioned by the WHO itself but done with a high degree of independence, showed how swiftly debilitating the coronavirus is. It says the WHO should have unequivocally and seriously warned the world of an impending pandemic on January 22 last year instead of waiting until January 30.
If the report’s criticism of the WHO is fair, it means the virus needs just a week of human complacency or indecisiveness to wreak enormous havoc. It’s also a warning for the umpteenth time that human “endgames” being played worldwide can be taken advantage of by COVID-19 if those are not exclusively aimed against the virus, but also against one another.
There are human failures every step of the way, the report said.
How much of the Thai problem is a result of local and global politics and how much of the COVID-19 trouble is the Bangkok government’s fault can be subjected to long debate, but hopefully the country would be among non-elitist nations standing to benefit from the international competition for the knight-in-shining-armor label when the coronavirus is concerned.
What has come a few days ago can be either good news or bad news. To cut a long story short, Washington changed its stand on drug patent, effectively making copycat vaccine makers around the world less worried about intellectual property rights violations. While the American move has to be welcomed, should COVID-19 vaccination breakthroughs have cleared copyright barriers a lot sooner?
COVID-19 continues to pose serious political, moral, diplomatic and ideological questions. Should the Prayut government do more in re-allocating budgets to fight the devastating disease? Should superpower countries cooperate much more? What if free speeches slow down what should have moved quicker when lives are at stake? Is China a lucky dictatorship and America an unlucky democracy, or is that just some superficial conclusion? Is drug patent a joke?
They are among complicated questions being asked through a virus’ simple survival instinct.
And while people’s eyes are more open, the big pictures being seen are not the biggest. At least not yet.
By Tulsathit Taptim
Though people across the globe are praying for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, many are still reluctant to get a jab to fight it. Doubts over the vaccines’ efficacy and safety linger in several places, including Thailand.