Thailand’s mass vaccination drive stutters off the start line with more hurdles ahead

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine inside the Central World shopping mall in Bangkok on June 7, 2021, as mass vaccine rollouts begin in Thailand. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

Thais are experiencing déjà vu amid fear of vaccine shortages, confusion about free vaccination, and authorities’ empty assurances. Events in the run-up to the second week of nationwide mass vaccination were as chaotic as a week earlier.

Disappointed netizens vented their frustration over the weekend as medical facilities like Bangkok’s Kasemrad Hospital Bangkae and Thai Nakarin Hospital postponed vaccination appointments indefinitely. The Thai Ruam Jai, which sets up vaccination spots outside hospital in the capital, has also called off appointments from June 15 onward.

“I had prepared myself for the shot … And now my booking is simply canceled,” a woman complained on Facebook.

Worse still, authorities continued to give contradictory information about COVID-19 vaccination. Last month, the government repeatedly assured the public that everyone who booked would definitely get the much-needed jab.

What happened before the first week?

Even though the government signed a deal last October to procure AstraZeneca vaccine as its main weapon against COVID-19, by June 2 it had received only 117,000 doses. Its grand plan for nationwide vaccination was due to launch five days later on June 7, and more than eight million people had booked a jab.

Understandably, there was widespread concern over supply of vaccines for the plan. Many hospitals made clear they would not be able to administer jabs to those who had booked if the vaccine did not come.

Fortunately, the local producer of AstraZeneca vaccine managed to deliver its first batch on June 3. With the arrival of 1.8 million doses, mass inoculation was finally able to launch on time. However, people still needed to check daily to see whether their bookings remained confirmed. Suranaree University of Technology Hospital in Nakhon Ratchasima province, for example, announced it had run out of vaccines on June 8.

Another dose of confusion

The second week of Thailand’s mass vaccination started on June 13 with another round of mayhem. The second batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be delivered a little late, according to the Medical Services Department. More reports of hospitals canceling vaccination bookings at short notice sparked concern among people who had registered for shots between June 14 and 20. Would theirs be postponed too?

The anxiety was especially unwelcome given medical advice to get plenty of rest before receiving your anti-COVID shot. And it added to worries about possible adverse side effects from the vaccines. It should be noted that a large percentage of people who have booked jabs are either senior citizens or are suffering from underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Worse was to follow when the Social Security Office (SSO) announced it was suspending free vaccination for members until June 28, only to quickly backtrack and say its jab stations would be open from June 14 as planned.

Anutin denies responsibility for continuing vaccination appointment postponements

Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has denied that the Public Health Ministry has anything to do with the postponement of vaccination appointments, scheduled for this week, by numerous private and state hospitals and health centres in Bangkok and other provinces.

Blame game

One hospital openly suggested that people should contact Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul about the canceled vaccination bookings. Anutin has complained that his ministry has been made the scapegoat because it simply allocated the vaccine doses in line with decisions made by COVID-19 Situation Administration Centre (CCSA). The chair of CCSA is Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The Public Health Ministry and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) are now locking horns over who is to blame for the disruption of vaccination services in the capital. The ministry insists it has already allocated doses to City Hall, but the BMA says supplies are far lower than promised.

The Rural Doctors Society (RDS) reported that when vaccine was available, the mass rollout progressed well. On June 7, a total of 416,847 doses were administered across the country. The following day, the number of administered doses soared to 472,128 but then plummeted to 223,315 on June 10 and 308,012 on June 11. The RDS believes the downward trend will worsen because the country is running out of vaccines.

To date, Thailand has imported 7.5 million doses of Sinovac – including one million donated by the Chinese government – as the country scrambles to procure vaccines to fight its third and worst wave of COVID-19.

The third wave accounts for more than 80 percent of the country’s total 195,509 confirmed cases and 90 percent of 1,449 COVID-related deaths.

Meanwhile, full inoculation with Sinovac requires two shots about three weeks apart, and the CCSA, which is in charge of allocating vaccines, may soon have problems managing available doses. The problem is less urgent for AstraZeneca vaccination since shots can be up to 16 weeks apart.

By Thai PBS World’s General desk


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