‘Vaccine hesitancy’ bites in Thailand – but one province has the antidote
At a time when Thailand is struggling to convince its citizens to sign up for free COVID-19 vaccination, Lampang has recorded remarkable success, getting all eligible residents to register for jabs.
A total of 223,796 residents of the northern province have already booked COVID-19 shots, filling the slots reserved for at-risk people.
The government is currently offering vaccination registration to people aged over 60 and those suffering from certain chronic conditions.
Lampang has a population of about 740,000 people. Of these, about 190,000 are aged 60-plus and 22,000 have been diagnosed with chronic conditions, namely respiratory disease, heart/blood vessel conditions, chronic kidney failure, stroke, obesity, cancer or diabetes.
Other provinces lagging far behind
While Bangkok tops the nationwide rankings with 516,282 appointments, the percentage of those who have booked a jab is unimpressive given the capital’s population of 7 million.
In fact, only about 41 percent of at-risk people in Bangkok and surrounding provinces have signed up for shots so far.
Of the country’s 77 provinces, only Bangkok and Lampang have attracted six-digit bookings for COVID-19 jabs. Nonthaburi ranked third with 51,113 vaccination reservations as of May 10. Meanwhile, just 22 provinces have reached more than 10,000 bookings.
This suggests public interest in receiving the vaccine is worryingly lukewarm at a time when the country is racing to inoculate 70 percent of its population – the threshold of herd immunity.
The surge of COVID-19 cases since last month has sent Thailand’s total caseload soaring to 86,924 infections and 452 fatalities. Meanwhile, the daily toll has been reaching record highs for more than a month.
About 1.3 million Thais have been vaccinated by the Thai government so far, with over 510 ,000 people having received both doses of either Sinovac’s CoronaVac or the AstraZeneca version , mainly the former .
Lampang’s recipe for success
Dr. Prasert Kijsuwonrat, chief medical officer for Lampang, credits local public-health officials and village health volunteers for his province’s impressive vaccination record. It was they who did the work of educating Lampang residents in advance about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Village health volunteers have already been inoculated. So they can now boost locals’ confidence in getting a shot too,” he said.
The vaccine awareness push began a few months ago in Lampang, Dr. Prasert said.
Village health volunteers conducted a door-to-door campaign to encourage people to get a shot and to help them with bookings.
The campaign first reached out to relatives of public health officials, health volunteers, and retired civil servants. The message was strong and clear: while COVID-19 vaccines could have side effects, people could be confident about getting a shot because Lampang Hospital was more than ready to take care of any unwanted health impacts.
Meanwhile, foreseeing potential hiccups with the Public Health Ministry and Mor Prom (Doctors Are Ready) online platforms, Lampang Hospital’s IT team launched its own Lampang Prom (Lampang Ready) program as a backup. Lampang Prom was fully developed and linked up to Mor Prom by April, well before the government started accepting vaccination bookings.
Lampang has also set up a call center with 10 lines to assist people who have problems booking a COVID-19 vaccine online. The call center operates from 8am to midnight. Officials from Lampang Hospital’s dental, rehabilitation medicine, PR, and social medicine departments – where the workload has reduced during the COVID-19 outbreak – are helping out by answering phone calls about the vaccine and appointments.
“We are working as per the policy of Lampang Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn,” Prasert explained.
Cave-rescue hero leading jab drive
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Narongsak has won widespread praise before. He made global headlines during his stint as governor of Chiang Rai in 2018, calmly and efficiently overseeing the mission to rescue the team of young Wild Boar footballers from a flooded cave.
Last year, he caught the media limelight again for imposing effective COVID-prevention measures in Lampang.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk