Fog of confusion over ‘walk-in jabs’ thickens in Thailand
Thailand has been abuzz with talk of “walk-in vaccinations” for the past few weeks after top government figures indicated people could get jabs just by walking into vaccination centers. However, while the idea spurred interest, it also caused much confusion amid contradictory messages from authorities.
With public befuddlement rising, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri stepped in on Thursday to put the issue to rest.
“We will allow people to register on-site for jabs. So, ‘on-site registration’ is replacing the term ‘walk-in’ to avoid confusion and misunderstanding,” he explained.
Anucha agreed that the term “walk-in vaccination” could mislead people into believing they would get their jab as soon as they walk into a vaccination venue. So, the service was being renamed to communicate clearly that people can walk in and register at the vaccination station, but might not get their jab on the same day.
On-site registration would only complement the existing jab-booking service via the Mor Prom platform and elsewhere, he added.
How did the confusion start?
As Thailand suffers its third and worst wave of COVID-19 infections, the government is under huge pressure to start vaccinating the general population. On May 8, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha responded by announcing authorities would launch an urgent “mass vaccination rollout”.
A few days later, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul declared the National Vaccine Committee would allocate 30 percent of available doses to Mor Prom registrants, 50 percent to at-risk people, and 20 percent for “walk-ins”.
The walk-in initiative was described as a solution for people who were unable to register for a vaccine in advance.
A lot can go wrong if or when “Walk-in” (or whatever they call it) vaccination facilities are opened. People may scramble to receive jabs, creating potentially dangerous clusters. Untoward incidents can be captured on phone cameras and go viral. People turned away for whatever reasons can become hot, political topics.
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who hails from Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party, was quick to support the idea, offering Bangkok’s Bang Sue Grand Station to deliver the service.
However, public excitement over the initiative was matched by growing confusion as authorities made contradictory announcements.
The issue was further complicated on May 13 when the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced it would not provide jabs for “walk-ins” until enough vaccine doses were available. As of press time on Thursday, Thailand had acquired only 6.11 million doses of vaccine, mostly CoronaVac made by Chinese company Sinovac.
Prayut finally called a halt to the “walk-in” idea at the Cabinet meeting on May 18, revising it to “on-site registration”.
Will the confusion end?
At this point, it’s difficult to tell if things will get clearer on walk-in jabs, especially since Thailand’s vaccine plan has already been revised several times. Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha has even asked the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to stop making repeated changes, complaining that they cause confusion.
While Sathit believes in making things clear and convenient for the public – including on-site registration for jabs – he is worried that such services could overload staff.
“We are trying to adapt, but if the personnel is overwhelmed, the entire system could collapse,” he warned.
There may also be problems with leftover doses at vaccination stations that attract too few people.
Will the people benefit?
While registering on-site may help people get their jab sooner than if they registered via Mor Prom, things may not be that smooth.
On Monday, Chulabhorn Hospital launched on-site registration for people aged over 70 or people with no access to the internet. However, many had to be turned away after the 100 doses allocated for the service were snapped up in minutes. All queue tickets were gone by the early morning.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk
The Thai government has replaced its “walk-in” COVID-19 inoculation program with “on-site”, to avoid misunderstandings that vaccines can be administered right away on the same day. On-site inoculation is another option members of the public can access COVID-19 vaccination, in addition to Mor Prom online registration.