Govt jab plan a riddle wrapped up in a mystery
published : 9 Feb 2021 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
Is the government explaining its Covid-19 vaccination plan or playing riddles? Why haven't Thais received any Covid-19 vaccines when other countries in Asean have started roll-outs?
It is because the government cares more about safety than speed?
Why didn't we join Covax led by the WHO which says it works to ensure more equitable access to vaccines, especially for poorer countries?
That is because we don't have leverage over which type of vaccines we will get or how much will it cost.
How about the economy and impacts on people's livelihoods?
The country is set to lose as much as 250 billion baht a month if we can't inoculate enough members of the population to achieve herd immunity and allow the economy to reopen.
Then, why didn't we speed up the jab procurement or diversify the sources instead of depending only on AstraZeneca and Sinovac?
There is no need to rush. The Thai healthcare system is ranked as among the best in the world. We can cope with the outbreak.
The government seems to have an answer to every question regarding its vaccination plan, except they do not seem to add up, or make sense.
Dropping out of Covax because we would have no negotiating power and price guarantee?
This should mean the government enjoyed more leverage and better pricing in its other dealings. But it procured the AstraZeneca vaccine at 150 baht per dose, or US$5, which is higher than the US$3 a dose that many other countries are due to pay.
Also Covax stated that its mission is to guarantee "fair and equitable" access to Covid-19 vaccines for every country in the world.
The alliance offers "diverse and actively managed portfolio of vaccines" to be "delivered as soon as they are available".
Apparently, these promises are not good enough for the Thai government. This would be alright if it believes its current plan of betting only on only two vaccines is better.
But it has to stand by it.
As people become overwhelmed with vaccination riddles, the government's accountability has been conspicuously missing.
It is fine if Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha insists we wait it out until more vaccines become available in the market at cheaper prices.
It's okay as well if he would vouch that the current plan of relying on Siam Bioscience to receive the technology from AstraZeneca and start producing vaccines locally, hopefully by June, will be the most effective both for the public's health and the economy.
If he believes that dropping out of Covax is the right thing to do, don't blame others if it turns out Thailand is left behind.
Enough with the excuses. What the PM, and his government, must show now is responsibility.
Man up. Show integrity. Quit babbling and stop passing the buck. Spare us the lamentations and empty rhetoric as well.
Statements like "I am more concerned about the immunisation than anyone in the country" or "the government will not let Thais be guinea pigs" won't expedite the immunisation, nor will they restore the economy.
And what is this assurance that Thailand has contingency plans to secure Covid-19 vaccines from other producers if AstraZeneca cannot deliver the secured doses? More pie in the sky?
What producers? Does the government know that it's a seller's market when it comes to Covid-19 vaccines out there? That demand far exceeds supplies at the moment and all existing producers are having troubles delivering?
Maybe the Thai government has been too busy congratulating itself for its "excellent healthcare system" to realise that countries which are far richer and more powerful than ours are competing to secure enough doses for their populations.
Maybe it has been so carried away by the dream of having Siam Bioscience serving as a regional hub for AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine production that it has forgotten the reality on the ground.
It seems the answer to every question regarding the national immunisation plan is: the government can do no wrong.
That's why people who questioned if the government has made the right decisions are either accused of trying to sabotage national security, insulting the monarchy or inputting false information into the computer system.
For good or ill, the attitude has given the government total immunity against criticism with accountability kept at zero. But will the seemingly inadequate and incoherent vaccination plan be good for the nation and people suffering from the outbreak?
We should find out soon. The 250 billion baht a month in losses are at stake.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.