Can govt rise to jab roll-out challenge?
The colossal vaccine rollout plan in Bangkok -- 10 million doses to inoculate five million people over two months -- shows how the government has finally come to its senses that the only way to revive the economy is to create herd immunity as soon as possible.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) just woke up early this week in response to the prime minister's order to have at least five million people in Bangkok and its outskirts inoculated, starting next month and running until the end of August.
The move came after total infections exceeded 24,000 with over 30 new clusters reported across the capital.
I am sure millions of Thais are looking forward to getting inoculated now even though Sinovac, one of only two vaccines available, isn't yet approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
So people are ready to roll up their sleeves and get any jabs the government provides. But the real question is whether the government is ready. And for Bangkok residents in particular, is the BMA up to this crucial task?
If you followed the news recently, you might be confused by the mixed messaging coming from top decision-makers.
Recently, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha belittled Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul by abruptly cancelling the walk-in vaccine plan which the minister had announced.
Mr Anutin said the walk-in crowds would be a substitute in the event people who register for the jab don't show up. He also said the vaccines assigned to each rollout spot must be given on the same day or the quality might degrade.
To be fair, Gen Prayut was right to cancel the plan.
Gen Prayut may have foreseen that public eagerness to get a jab could backfire if vaccine stocks were uncertain.
Huge crowds could be expected at each rollout spot and many would be disappointed if they didn't get a shot.
The walk-in vaccine plan would also require large amounts of space to handle the crowds.
The fuss carried on when the government's spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri confirmed no walk-ins would take place, but on-site registration would be allowed.
The confusion was apparent not just at the national level but elsewhere too. Earlier last week, the BMA announced walk-in registration only to cancel it the day after.
Yet Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang has not offered anything better for the vaccine programme in the capital.
It remains to be seen whether the BMA can meet the government's goal. While other provinces such as Lampang and Buri Ram have launched impressive vaccination programmes, the BMA is offering web-based registration.
The BMA recently included the 7-Eleven network in the vaccine distribution loop which came in a last-minute manner.
If daily changes to the vaccine rollout plan have made the public question the ability of the government, the Mor Prom app -- the online platform which the Public Health Ministry launched -- has convinced them the jab programme will be riddled with glitches.
The app, even now, is still far from user friendly. People complain about the registration process. Apparently, Mor Prom, which means "Doctor Ready" in Thai, does not live up to its name.
The mixed messages given by the PM and public health minister, and the lack of preparedness by the Bangkok governor, have dampened the public's spirit. It is demoralising for front-line workers who toil tirelessly to provide vaccines to the public.
Allow me to share a good experience. I witnessed vaccinations for at-risk groups in Pathumwan district at the Holy Redeemer Church last week during a field-day observation. The jab effort was efficient and impressive; the health staff deserve a round of applause.
Spread over eight hours a day, around 1,000-1,200 people receive a shot.
But the process required around 100 staff because people have to pass through various stations before they can get a shot, starting from on-site registration, including blood pressure checks, a medical history check and a consent form which they must sign.
I could see some staff performing the injections were volunteers from the Thai Red Cross. Some only managed to get lunch at 4pm and were exhausted by the end of the day. Many were soaked with sweat after a whole day wearing PPE gowns.
The rollout plan is supposed to start in less than two weeks. The government and those in charge must pull themselves together. People have been let down as it is with the government procuring vaccines so late. They will not tolerate an inefficient jab programme.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.