Govt needs to get its vaccine priorities right
The government's recent change in its vaccination rollout plan to re-prioritise a risk group, the majority of them low-paid workers in the capital, may sound like a perfect preventive plan. But it's not yet inclusive enough.
The latest rollout plan will cover about half a million workers in Bangkok. Unlike office workers who can work from home, their jobs subject them to working outside the home putting them into contact with other people. They include public transport drivers, street cleaners, teachers, and workers in the aviation sector, electricity and waterworks agencies.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) re-prioritised the group as they were among those who caused more clusters after the latest outbreak in the Thong Lor area.
Unfortunately, the risk group, identified last weekend by the CCSA and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), only covers formally employed staff in the public and private sectors, not those in the informal sector.
Aren't vendors in markets and daily-wage workers also at greater risk? These people are probably not officially employed nor properly registered in Bangkok. But many live in peripheral areas and commute to work in many parts of the city. Considering their routines, they are potential spreaders. Considering their vital role in helping millions of people work from home more efficiently, they deserve to be inoculated as soon as possible.
After three outbreaks, the CCSA has slowly learned and now come up with a preventive strategy.
Perhaps the BMA can learn more from Buri Ram province.
Last week -- while City Hall struggled to run an active search programme in the sea of people in the Klong Toey community as it frantically rolled out its vaccination programme -- Buri Ram announced a vaccination programme that targets low-paid workers who live or work in Muang district.
From May 10-12, Buri Ram Hospital rolled out its Covid vaccination programme at Chang International Circuit. The programme targeted seven risk groups in terms of occupation and their potential to spread disease. Among targeted workers are vendors, workers in hyper- or supermarkets, food distributors and public transport drivers.
Buri Ram, a small town-turned-sport tourism destination has come up with a thoughtful vaccination programme. The locality has been able to design its own jab programme that is responsive and sensitive to the needs of residents.
I'm not a fan of the political strategist and deal maker, Newin Chidchob, who is co-founder of the Bhumjaithai Party and a prominent figure in the province. While we might question how the province acquired its vaccines, this is probably the most sensible rollout plan in this country. At least, somebody at the decision-making level came up with a proactive strategy to prevent another outbreak.
According to a hospital receptionist, anyone registered in Muang district of Buri Ram or who works in the Muang municipality was eligible to be vaccinated. No pre-registration is required. Some of the vendors in the municipality market are already on the list. Others could simply show up with any documents, proving that they work in Muang Buri Ram district.
Allocation of funds to people from the lowest rung is an efficient way to create herd immunity because they provide food and services for the whole society. Despite their crucial role in driving any cities, they are often the first to be forgotten but the last to be provided for.
If the CCSA might learn anything from the past year, regardless on the elite or powerful super-spreaders, the three outbreaks were spread through workers and low-paid workers in those venues to outsiders in the markets and dense communities.
While the Klong Toey cluster hasn't yet been contained, the Huay Kwang market cluster in Bangkok emerged.
As of Sunday, there were 477 infected people from the Klong Toey cluster and more than 6,000 waiting for their test results. With about 15,000 people from 3,000 families, the Huay Kwang market community is just next to Din Daeng community, another dense community of Bangkok.
To be fair, despite the incomplete plan, the government started to learn something from the recent outbreak. The priority to be vaccinated shouldn't be just the physically vulnerable like the elderly, but also the economically vulnerable such as low-paid groups who struggle to make ends meet.
But before we reopen our country and welcome inbound tourists, we have to create herd immunity.
Those who are forced to be on the streets and meet all types of potential spreaders should be the priority.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.