Private sector unsure on jab imports
Business groups seek speedier vaccinations
The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) will go ahead with its plan to import vaccines for companies which want to distribute them to employees, while the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC) accepted that it might be too late for the private sector to procure vaccine supplies amid intense global demand.
A statement issued by TCC says the government can afford to buy enough vaccines for people, so "the private sector does not need to acquire more and add financial burden to company budgets already affected by Covid-19".
However, FTI said in a statement: "The government stressed it welcomes the private sector's help to import vaccines under the Public Health Ministry's regulations."
TCC and FTI were among key business groups that met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday to discuss ways to speed up vaccinations in Thailand.
"We've pushed ahead with the vaccine import plan from the beginning. We cannot retreat," said FTI chairman Supant Mongkolsuthree.
FTI has started negotiations with vaccine companies to acquire various brands of vaccines, including the US' Moderna, Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinovac, he said.
"Companies affiliated with FTI are willing to buy vaccines for their employees," said Mr Supant.
"They hope the vaccines will prevent disease transmissions in factories, boosting safety confidence among their foreign customers."
But TCC is worried it may not be easy to import vaccines due to the current huge demand worldwide.
"The private sector is negotiating to import 'alternative vaccines', but it's difficult and we have to wait in a long queue because many countries are scrambling for them," said TCC chairman Sanan Angubolkul.
"It may be next year when we receive vaccines, which is too late to achieve our target to have 70% of the population vaccinated within this year."
Gen Prayut said last Friday his administration plans to distribute a total of 100 million doses of Covid-19 to 50 million people by the end of 2021.
The government already secured a purchase of 64 million doses of AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines.
Authorities have to buy 36 million doses more and are working on the purchase.
"The government successfully negotiated to acquire 5-10 million doses of Sputnik V and 5-10 million doses of Pfizer," Gen Prayut said during a live TV broadcast last Friday night.
Mr Sanan said the TCC believes the government can manage to procure more vaccines as, during the Wednesday meeting, "Gen Prayut made a solemn promise to secure extra vaccines."
TCC senior chairman Kalin Sarasin said the private sector has already contacted a manufacturer, but received the response that it can allocate vaccines by the end of the year which will be too late to help strengthen the herd immunity.
"It's too late to procure vaccines by ourselves as global demand surges dramatically. Even though the government didn't oppose the idea, most of us will back off from self-sourcing and just wait for the government's allotment," he said.
"However, there might be some private hospitals that remain steady with the self-procurement plan."
Chamnan Srisawat, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the tourism industry cannot wait until the end of the year to get vaccines.
Provinces and areas in the pilot programme of quanrantine-free entry, such as Phuket, Krabi, Phangnga, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, have to receive adequate doses first to create herd immunity.
He insisted that alternative vaccine procurement by private hospitals is necessary as it will allow tourism operators to pay for vaccines accelerating the herd immunity, while the government should help control the prices to be reasonable.
Mr Chamnan said it is also vital to create a clear single message by appointing the governor of each province to take charge of vaccinations.
It is the government's responsibility to seek an additional 35 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines, but the most important thing is to accelerate the pace of vaccinations, said Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association.
If the private sector can procure more vaccines, it will help create herd immunity faster, but not every firm, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, can be able to support vaccine costs for their employees.
Mrs Marisa said there are 400,000 hotel workers in registered hotels nationwide who are considered as frontline workers which need 800,000 doses.
The government should prioritise the vaccine administration to some groups, including staff in hospitals, alternative state quarantine, alternative local quarantine as well as hotels in Bangkok which is strategic location for the international market.