Push to vaccinate 16 million vulnerable Thais suffers early setbacks
Only about 5 percent of Thailand’s vulnerable population have so far booked a free COVID-19 vaccination jab since the government’s appointment process was launched on Saturday.
The slow uptake is being blamed on two major factors: hiccups on the booking platform and reluctance to receive the jabs amid reports of undesirable side effects.
At noon on Monday, the Public Health Ministry confirmed 611,277 people had made vaccination appointments on the Mor Prom platform, which operates via an official LINE account and also a mobile app. The government wants to vaccinate 16 million vulnerable Thais – those aged over 60 and people with chronic conditions including diabetes and cancer – by July 31.
The Public Health Ministry is also accepting vaccination appointments via village health volunteers and hospitals, but the online platform is the key channel for bookings.
Doctors (Un) Ready?
The Mor Prom (Doctors Ready) platform has been criticized as “unready” by many users, after their repeated attempts to book a jab proved unsuccessful. Many said they had problems from the very start after they were unable to access the busy platform. Others have found their names missing from the government’s list of registered vulnerable people. Some have been unable to choose a hospital from the list displayed.
All 16 million vulnerable people will be the first in line when Thailand launches free nationwide vaccinations for residents next month. Meanwhile, appointments for jabs can be made in advance from today via the Mor Prom account on the Line mobile application.
Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha explained that some of the vulnerable might not find their name on the platform because they had no hospital health records.
“In such cases, you will have to contact a hospital to put your name on our whitelist first,” he said.
The reason people are unable to choose a hospital for vaccination is because they live in a different area from the hospital that holds their health records, he added.
“We have already fixed this problem. You should be able to book now,” he said.
Reluctance to get a shot
A 67-year-old resident of Samut Prakan, one of six provinces under maximum COVID-control measures, said she decided not to rush for a jab because of concern over possible side effects.
“I am still healthy. What if the shot ruins my health? Worried about that kind of thing, I prefer to wait. In the meantime, I am taking all precautions to keep COVID-19 away,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Her fears are shared by many. A recent survey showed about 27.1 percent of Thais were unsure whether they should get the vaccine and 9.9 percent were determined to avoid the jab altogether.
However, 62.9 percent of the 1,017 respondents surveyed were keen to get vaccinated.
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.
Vaccine chosen for vulnerable groups
The Public Health Ministry has chosen the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be locally produced by Siam Bioscience, for the elderly and people with chronic respiratory diseases, heart/blood vessel conditions, chronic kidney failure, stroke, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
According to the official schedule, they must register themselves for the vaccination programme, which will be completed by the end of July.
Unwanted side effects
The World Health Organisation has passed AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as safe and effective at protecting people from serious risks of the disease, including death, hospitalisation and severe symptoms. Common side effects of the AstraZeneca jab are bruising and tenderness at the injection site, headache, tiredness, muscle or joint aches, fever, chills, and nausea.
However, unusual blood clots have also been listed as an extremely rare side effect. The United Kingdom reported 209 cases of major blood clots in AstraZeneca vaccine recipients as of April 21. These cases resulted in 41 deaths – or about one death per one million people vaccinated. The risk of dying from COVID-19 is estimated to be many times higher.
Because data suggests the risk of blood clots is higher in younger adults, Thailand has decided to use AstraZeneca vaccine for the elderly.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk