At Long Last, COVID Vaccine Drive Begins in Earnest

Health workers and officials receive vaccine to protect them from COVID-19 disease in Pathum Thani province on March 1, 2021.

BANGKOK — Frontline health workers, volunteers, and local officials are lining up Monday to receive their shot of vaccine against COVID-19, kicking off the long awaited inoculation drive that hopes to reopen the country.

The first shots in Pathum Thani were witnessed by health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, using the vaccine made by Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac. Shipments of the vaccine also arrived in provinces that largely depended on foreign tourists, like Chonburi and Phuket.

Key members of the government, including Anutin, were already inoculated in a media event on Sunday, though PM Prayut Chan-o-cha will have to wait for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, since he was deemed too old for the Sinovac jabs.

Vials of COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac are seen in Phuket province on March 1, 2021.

“[The government] is aiming to provide Thai people with immunity and safety from the outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus,” Anutin told reporters at Pathum Thani Hospital, where healthcare professionals in the province were receiving the vaccine.

“I’d like to give my moral support to all of you,” Anutin said of the medical workers. “I hope we will continue to have the energy and dedication to work for the wellbeing of Thai people.”

Doctors and health workers in Bangkok received the shots against COVID-19 at Bang Khun Thian Hospital in the southern part of the capital, while the vaccination drive in Samut Sakhon – the city hardest hit by the resurgence of the coronavirus outbreak – is being rolled out from the provincial hospital.

Governors, their deputies, and healthcare officials were also eligible for the first batch of the vaccine.

Health workers and officials receive COVID-19 vaccine in Chonburi province on March 1, 2021.

Thailand is lagging behind many of Asian countries in starting an inoculation campaign against the coronavirus pandemic. The drive was supposed to take place earlier, on Feb. 14, but was delayed due to a supply dispute in the European Union, according to the government.

Even under the current vaccine strategy, the general public won’t be getting their shots until the latter half of 2021. A majority of the 61 million AstraZeneca doses to be used in the national vaccine drive will be produced locally by Siam Bioscience, a company wholly owned by the palace.

The first round of vaccination was also extended to hospitality workers in five provinces and towns most popular among foreign visitors: Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Phuket, Krabi and Samui island in Surat Thani.

Government officials said the inclusion of hotel staff in the vaccine drive will pave way for reopening of the country’s borders to tourists and reinvigorate the tourism industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic.