BANGKOK — An agency tasked with giving centralized information on the COVID-19 pandemic sowed more public confusion on Monday as it contradicted itself on how foreign nationals can sign up for inoculations.
The government’s pandemic response center had previously announced that foreigners would have to come to designated hospitals to get their queue for the free vaccinations, but the center’s spokesman said Monday they are now required to make the appointment online instead.
“No walk-ins will be available,” Natapanu Nopakun, spokesman of the government’s COVID-19 Situation Administration, said during Monday’s news briefing. “You have to register on this website first for all vaccination venues [listed] on this website. We advised you to register two weeks in advance of your intended vaccination date.”
Thailand kicked off their long-awaited mass vaccination program for its citizens on Monday as the country battles its third and deadliest wave of coronavirus outbreak. Despite reports of vaccine shortage at some hospitals, the health ministry said over 300,000 people were vaccinated on the first day of the inoculation drive.
Monday was also the first day of vaccine registration for the approximately three million foreign nationals living in Thailand. Several people showed up at Vimut Hospital, one of the designated hospitals for foreigners’ vaccination in Bangkok, only to find out that walk-in registrations were no longer accepted.
“It’s very confusing,” Australian expat Christine Horne said. “I read from the Bangkok Post and it said we can go to Vimut Hospital or Bangrak Health Center. Once I came here, the staff had to help me register online. Mine went through eventually, but the website was very slow because everybody was trying to get on it at the same time.”
American expat Brett Barrett said he managed to have his vaccination booked, but turned out it was cancelled when he checked in at the hospital.
“The staff told me my appointment was canceled,” Barrett said. “They don’t know why.”
A website for COVID-19 vaccination registration was opened for foreigners aged over 60 or those with certain underlying conditions on Monday. Some users reported they experienced issues when they were trying to make appointments, while others said they could not access the site at all.
Registrations for those aged 18 to 59 will open “at a later period,” Natapanu said.
“The policy keeps changing everyday,” Krittavith Lertutsahakul, CEO of Vimut Hospital, said. “We’d like to advise against walk-ins because it’s difficult to manage the queue. Things may not go smoothly on the first day due to the lack of coordination, but I believe things will become better in the next few days when everyone knows the process.”
Last month, Vimut Hospital opened its own online vaccine registration form for expats living in Bangkok, which was closed due to overwhelming demands. Krittavith said those who are interested in getting the jab at his hospital must now sign up on the government’s website, which will allocate available slots for them.
Foreign nationals in Bangkok were previously advised to register for the shots in person at Vimut Hospital and Bangrak Health Center, while those living in the provinces would need to register at the hospital which has their health records, the government’s pandemic response center said on May 21.
Some provinces such as Chiang Mai and Phuket have launched their own registration schemes for expats that run separately from the centralized system operated by the Department of Disease Control.
Thai citizens follow a separate process to sign up for the vaccination program, which is available online and offline. Immunizations for migrant workers are administered by the Social Security Office.