Prayut needs no praise given vaccine setback

Prayut needs no praise given vaccine setback

There is no way to explain the deep devotion the public have shown for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha despite his repeated failings, except perhaps Stockholm syndrome.

Perhaps, Thais could relate more with Jamloeyrak ("Slave of Love"), the popular soap opera in which the soft-hearted heroine was abducted and abused by the vengeful protagonist, until they fall in love with each other.

The PM's televised speech last Friday about the government's efforts to bring the latest Covid-19 outbreak under control, was essentially an admission that he was at his wit's end.

The lamenting, the incongruous self-pacifying and finger-pointing, were beside the point.

The public doesn't need to know that his heart ached every time a new restriction was rolled. What they need is an update on their Covid-19 vaccines. And on that crucial point, the PM stuttered, "Vaccine? What vaccine?" followed by some incomprehensible muttering.

It hurt to learn that the government has failed on what is probably the most vital aspect of the battle against Covid-19, and that we are likely left on our own.

But it's truly maddening when the government does not even realise its shortcomings, while being conceited enough to claim credit where there none is due.

What's with the PM saying he "forgave" those who criticised the government when Thailand was at the bottom of the list in Asia when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout? No-one wants his "forgiveness" -- people want him to grasp how off-track his strategy betting on Oxford/AstraZeneca has been. They all want him to fix it quickly.

The statistics don't lie. The government has administered a dose of Covid-19 vaccine to some 500,000 people or 0.8% of the population as of April 18. Only 80,000 people or 0.1% have had the required two doses -- a far cry from 60-70% that the country has to achieve to attain the herd immunity and restart the economy.

The incredibly slow rate of vaccination stands in contrast to Israel, which has provided the vaccine to more than 60% of its population. It has even started to "normalise" activities, allowing people to go out without having to wear masks.

Closer to home, Singapore has given nearly 20% of its population one dose of vaccine, while almost 10% have received two doses.

Worse still, Thailand is stuck with only two brands of vaccines, both of which are embroiled in bad publicity.

The Sinovac vaccine showed an efficacy rate of only 50.7% in phase-three trials conducted on health-care workers in Brazil, according to The Economist. In a real-world trial, the vaccine was estimated to be just 49.6% effective against symptomatic cases.

The other choice -- Oxford/AstraZeneca -- is not faring better.

Many countries have suspended the jab temporarily following reports about rare blood clots. Denmark last week became the first country to stop its rollout completely due to concerns over side effects.

But Thailand is almost fully committed to AstraZeneca's vaccine, with the vaccine expected to account for 90% of the jabs rolled out in the nation's inoculation drive.

And it has not even been produced yet.

The first lot of some five million AstraZeneca jabs will be available in June under the technology transfer deal that the Prayut government secured for Siam Bioscience, a pharmaceutical company wholly-owned by the Crown Property Bureau.

In a pandemic, a day without a vaccine is a day of lost opportunity costs, financial hardship and despair.

Academics and business leaders alike have warned that Thailand's vaccination plan is neither inadequate nor prudent, but the government has refused to budge. Instead, it has continued to defend its two-vaccine strategy, calling it the most suited for the country and the best it could do given the circumstances.

Its excuse, that it's not easy to secure Covid-19 vaccines, is absurd. Everyone knows it's tough. But everyone also knows that it's something that must be done. In other words, securing the vaccines is a test of leadership.

To have only achieved 0.8% when other countries have gone on two digits is a failure. To say that the government cannot purchase other Covid-19 vaccines when other countries including neighbouring Malaysia managed just fine, is to admit its own incompetence.

But the Prayut government is not ashamed to do so. It could say with a straight face that it could not secure enough vaccines for its people.

And the government's supporters cheer it on despite the flaws in its vaccination plan. They will go on zealously bashing whoever dares to raise questions about the plan.

If this is not some kind of Stockholm syndrome, then what can it possibly be?

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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