BANGKOK — After two weeks of living under a literal lockdown, residents near Bang Yai Central Market in Nonthaburi are out and about again – and hungry for vaccines.
“From what I’ve asked around, people not only want to get vaccinated,” Watcharin Sriwimonthan, a local health volunteer in Bang Yai district, said by phone on Monday. “Some are even concerned that there won’t be enough vaccines imported to go around.”
Their enthusiasm may be representative of Thai population as a whole, as attested by a poll published on Monday, which finds that Thais were the most willing to be inoculated against COVID-19 out of the 24 countries surveyed.
According to the survey by YouGov, a marketing firm based in Britain, 83 percent of respondents in Thailand said they wouldn’t mind getting a vaccine, followed closely by U.K. (80 percent) and Denmark (70 percent). The survey was taken between Nov. 17 and Jan. 10, covering 2,088 participants in Thailand.
“Thai people see vaccines as very beneficial to their bodies. They know that vaccines will cure the disease,” Watcharin, the health volunteer or Aor Sor Mor, said.
Earlier in January, the area around Bang Yai Central Market was sealed off after a cluster of infections was found. Next to the market is a seven-storey apartment called “The Pink Building,” which was also locked down, and none of the residents allowed to leave their rooms.
Two weeks later, the lockdown is over, people could move about again, and they’re hoping they’d be included in the vaccination campaign, Watcharin said.
Government officials said the first 200,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine secured from Sinovac will be distributed to frontline health professionals, Aor Sor Mor volunteers, and “vulnerable groups” of residents in five provinces hardest hit by the pandemic.
The effort will expand to 2 million doses by April, according to the official timeline, and the general public will start receiving doses made by British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in June.
Thailand’s acceptance of a potential coronavirus vaccine is way ahead of the level seen in countries like Poland, France, the United States, according to the YouGov report.
The poll said only 47 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they will get vaccinated, 39 in France, and 28 in Poland.
Their reluctance, the survey noted, is not always caused by denial of vaccine’s benefits or fears fueled by conspiracy theories, but also because many are waiting to see if the vaccine is safe and without serious side effects.
But a report published by The Associated Press found that fringe conspiracy theories and hoaxes still play a large role in putting off many in Eastern Europe from getting a jab. One such claim said the coronavirus vaccine is a disguised attempt to inject microchips inside human bodies.
In Serbia, a country of seven million, only 200,000 people applied for the vaccine – a percentage of about 2.8 percent.
However, recent news reports that about 30 elderly people in Norway died after receiving vaccines developed by Pfizer did stir concerns for some Thais.
The anxiety was sufficient for Sophon Iamsirithavorn, director of the Division of Communicable Diseases, to stage a news conference on Sunday and announce that the government had no plans to import the Pfizer vaccine.
“Those are different from the vaccines that Thailand has reserved for imports, which are vaccines by AstraZeneca and Sinovac. They use different technology than Pfizer or Moderna,” Sophon said. “Therefore, citizens can rest assured that we are not importing these two.”
To prevent a potential side effect, children younger than 5, pregnant women, and people with serious allergies would not be allowed to take the vaccine, Disease Control Department director Opas Karnkawinpong said.
Using a vaccine from Pfizer would also pose a logistical challenge for Thai health workers. Chatchai Mingmalairak, director of the Thammasat University Field Hospital, said the vaccines made by the German firm require -70C storage, and that not all hospitals in Thailand are equipped with adequate storage equipment.