The 'first shot' drama shows up a sickly govt

The 'first shot' drama shows up a sickly govt

What was the fuss all about regarding who would take the first Covid-19 shot?

A great deal actually. The seemingly routine about-turns betrayed not just the government's messy vaccination plans but its intellectual as well as moral bankruptcy as a whole.

When the country's leader does not feel that he has to take responsibility for his words, that is a national malady.

The PM earlier volunteered to be the first to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul made a big deal out of this. It's important that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha takes the first shot because he is the country's leader, Mr Anutin said last week.

It had been well-known that the first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines to arrive in the country would be from the Chinese firm Sinovac. That meant Gen Prayut was willing to take this vaccine.

In that case, does it mean the 66-year-old PM or Mr Anutin were not aware that Sinovac is not recommended for people above the age of 59? Isn't this terrifying?

This is the PM who apologised the other day during the no-confidence debate for asserting that the human brain consists of some 84,000 cells.

"I am sorry I misspoke. I talked too fast. But my brain is not smaller than yours," Gen Prayut said.

Doctors were naturally opposed to the PM taking Sinovac, which has been through only limited tests among those older than 59.

The PM's plan to boost public confidence in the vaccine quickly unravelled into a damage-control operation.

Mr Anutin weighed in again saying Gen Prayut would get the first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca on Sunday.

But where did the AstraZeneca shot come from? Earlier, we were told that AstraZeneca vaccines would be produced here by Siam Bioscience via the technology transfer process, starting probably in June.

But when the Sinovac vaccines arrived last Sunday, some 117,000 doses from AstraZeneca miraculously came along as well.

The AstraZeneca shipment had not been in the plan. At that time, it was not known where they came from or how Thailand managed to get its hands on the doses.

Adding to the confusion, news reports emerged over the weekend that Gen Prayut would not be receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine either. No explanation was given except that it was up to the discretion of doctors.

The repeated cancellations make it seem the government is churning out "false advertisement" featuring Gen Prayut as a stooge.

The seemingly amateurish handling of the crucial vaccination campaign could also cause the public to doubt whether our leader and his Covid-19 team know what they are doing.

If the doctors or the government's Covid-19 team weren't so sure about the PM's conditions or the vaccines, why did they tell the public he would be "the first" to take the shot? And if they were not so sure about the vaccines, how can we be?

They should know that seeing the PM going back on his own words is the surest way to destroy public confidence.

According to the government, the PM's about-turn could be due to the fact that the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been endorsed by the Medical Science Department.

Mr Anutin said that the company has yet to submit documents and samples to receive approval to be used in the country. This explanation poses more concerns.

Does it mean the government took the vaccine delivery without knowing its origin or certification?

And it then went ahead to announce that it would be given to the PM without knowing that it had not been approved? All of this is beginning to sound like a sick joke.

After letting Mr Anutin be the first person in the country to take a Covid vaccine, PM Gen Prayut made an unceremonious retreat from the earlier assertion that he needed to take the first shot to show his leadership and inspire confidence in the vaccine.

The PM now says it is no big deal who got the jab first. He also told the media not to "dramatise" the issue.

Indeed, it is no big deal who took the first shot. What matters, however, is that the country's leader and his government must be seen to be reliable and to take responsibility for words and actions.

If the PM can backtrack on his statements so casually, how can the public be assured he will not reverse his words about the vaccine's efficacy or safety just as easily in future?

The "drama" about the first shot is an issue because it belies the government's tendency to take the public for granted -- their livelihoods, their health and their hopes.

It's this moral deficiency that underpins the seemingly trivial "first shot" drama. And it's a far more dangerous infection.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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