Opinion: Losing Faith in Thai Govt’s Timely Inoculation Abilities

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha raises his thumb to a man who is receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at Central Plaza Ladprao mall on May 12, 2021.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha raises his thumb to a man who is receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at Central Plaza Ladprao mall on May 12, 2021.

When people lose trust in the state’s abilities to ensure citizen’s safety and good health, they go their own way to seek alternatives. The failed handling of the third wave of COVID-19 outbreak and the limited, delayed inoculation program have sprung alternative solutions.

Although the inoculation will start in earnest on Monday, some local administrators say the quota allocated to them is arriving too little, too slowly. Only 3.58 percent of the population have been vaccinated with the first jab as of yesterday (June 4) and only 1.59 percent inoculated with two jabs.

Chulalongkorn University biologist Jessada Denduangboripant, a well-known social media figure, named and shamed the Thai government and made news on Friday, when he said among the 10-member ASEAN nations, Thailand is only ahead of Myanmar in terms of the ratio of vaccinated populations. The target set by the Thai government is 100 million doses by the end of the year and 10 million doses by the end of the month.

Kamronwit Thoopkrachang, chief of Pathum Thani Provincial Administration Organization (PAO), told me Wednesday that his province, which is just north of Bangkok and part of the Bangkok metropolis, has been allocated with a first batch of 62,000 doses of vaccine, even though the real population, including migrant and unregistered population, is around 2 million.

The province is among the top ten most infected provinces in Thailand. Since April, 4,242 have been infected in the province as of Friday and the same day saw the province ranking at number 2 after Bangkok in terms of the number of the newly infected, at 460 people.

“I saw the figures and felt depressed. It’s over. We can’t continue like this. That’s just good for teachers. The state allocates 62,000 doses [for the province] so it’s my duty to look for [alternative and more] vaccines,” he said.

Kamronwit is one of the very first local administrators to beg Chulabhorn Royal Academy, which is the only semi-independent state body trying to secure one million doses of alternative vaccine from Sinopharm.

He believes he has a good chance since Princess Chulabhorn’s palace is located in the province. When I asked about other provinces without such special connections, Kamronwit was not able to provide a clear answer, except that many PAOs are now banding together to seek more alternative vaccines. On Friday, some provinces already announced a delay in their inoculation program due to limited delivery of vaccines from the national government.

At a more individual level, and if you can afford it, you have a choice of joining one of the vaccine tour packages to the United States.

One of the companies advertised on social media this week is charging 69,000 baht, or roughly 2,225 U.S. dollars, for a trip to either Las Vegas or New York for vaccinations and sightseeing.

That’s about four times the starting monthly salary of a university graduate from a good university at major companies.

The packaged vaccine tour lasting 10 days and seven nights to NYC includes a visit to the Statue of Liberty, High Line elevated park, and Woodbury outlet. This price is not inclusive of air tickets and the costs for 14-day alternative quarantine accommodation upon returning to Thailand, however.

Much cheaper for those who can’t afford or have no time for a trip to the U.S. is to seek to pay for alternative vaccines promised by several private hospitals such as the Thonburi chain of hospitals.

Dr. Boon Vanasin, chairman of Thonburi Healthcare Group PCL told me on Wednesday his hospitals will charge around 1,300 baht for a jab of alternative vaccines from more preferred brands like U.S.-made Moderna instead of Chinese-made Sinovac, which is less preferred by some Thais.

Some 60,000 people have expressed interest by registering, but Boon said the earliest jab could be August – that’s not even written in stone yet. That’s at least two months of trying to survive COVID-19 and not ending up among the 30 or so daily fatalities, if you can’t secure the government’s vaccines for the meantime.

And it could take even longer, depending on Boon’s ability to deliver. Many poor Thais who struggle to put food on the table tomorrow or next week are definitely not entitled to this scheme, as 1,300 baht per jab is equivalent to almost four days of minimum wage. You will need two jabs, so that’s worth about eight days of minimum wage.

Boon said he believes the real number of infected people in Thailand is four times the government figures due to the government’s limited capacities to carry out case finding tests.

The government’s figures as of Friday, June 4 is 171,971 people infected. Multiplied by four, it’s south of 700,000 people. Boon also suspects the real fatalities are 1.5 times higher. The current official figures is 1,083 deaths as of Friday. Boon told me some of his medical staff are losing hearts seeing fatalities and the medical system being overwhelmed, although he said for Prayut, a former junta leader and four-star general, those who died were just “casualties of war.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures and more Thais are feeling desperate. They are losing trust of Prayut Chan-ocha’s administration and seeking to bypass the state’s failures to ensure prompt and adequate inoculation to protect Thais from ending up as the newly infected or worse still, the newly dead.