Now not the time for 'vaccine politics'

Now not the time for 'vaccine politics'

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, left, accept the first batch of vaccines from China. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, left, accept the first batch of vaccines from China. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

With the third wave of Covid-19 showing no signs of abating, the government's vaccination plans face hurdles prompted by a lack of unity among state agencies.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared mass immunisation against the virus to be a national agenda item, with the aim of inoculating 50 million people to achieve herd immunity. But the plan has already suffered many mishaps.

The Mor Prom or "Doctor Ready" app that was launched on May 1 was anything but ready as the system immediately collapsed.

The communications strategy is a calamity with changes to the vaccination plan almost on a daily basis which only adds to public confusion. Take a look at the change from "walk-in" as proposed by Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, to "on-site'' registration as ordered by Gen Prayut.

Vaccination has helped a number of countries turn the corner in their fight against the pandemic that has brought the world to its knees since late 2019. Jabs are set to begin on June 7 after the imminent delivery of a big batch of vaccines, followed by 10 million more doses a month, and that should give the public some hope.

Two or three months from now if the vaccination campaign results a significant decrease in infections in Bangkok and other maximum-control zones, it could secure Gen Prayut's political future.

Which brings us to "vaccine politics" as parties attempt to use the current climate to score points against one another whether by trumpeting successes or pointing out failures.

The Palang Pracharath-run Labour Ministry expects its slice of the vaccine cake as it looks to earn credit with the nine million members of the Social Security Fund set to be inoculated under Section 33 starting next month.

Even Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang who has an eye on maintaining his run in charge of the capital, has also been cashing in on the pandemic for his own political ends after moving away from any association with the government's plans by setting up a bespoke website for the capital's residents to register for vaccination.

In doing so, he has extended cooperation with the country's largest convenience store chain, which is also no doubt part of his drive for support in the next governor contest.

But what is going on reflects a lack of coordination or unity among state agencies. Ministers fight to make headlines with announcements of plans and initiatives only to backtrack the following day after such off-the-cuff decision-making unsurprisingly proves to have more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese.

More importantly, the competition between the coalition partners has led to much bickering, especially after the PM put the brakes on Mr Anutin's walk-in plans for fear that the confusion caused by the measure could backfire on the government.

Following Mr Anutin's loss of face, key members of the Bhumjaithai Party (BJT), among them party spokesman Paradorn Prisnanantakul, gave less-than-subtle rebukes of government strategy which, though they did not name him specifically, were clearly directed at Gen Prayut and his decision to place such a lot of faith in the Mor Prom app. He even went so far as to label whoever was making these decisions as stubborn and incompetent.

This bickering could soon escalate into all-out war between the two coalition parties as PPRP members fight back to protect the embattled PM.

This is not the first conflict among the two major parties over Covid-19 management.

Last month, Supachai Jaisamut, a BJT member, lashed out at the prime minister's decision to centralise all legal powers while the threat of the virus remains clear and present following the third wave which started in Bangkok's Thong Lor area.

Meanwhile, PPRP politicians who are House panel members, want Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob who is also BJT secretary-general to shoulder some responsibility for the Thong Lor cluster. The minister was alleged to have visited an exclusive club, a virus hotspot, and turned a blind eye to the fact that the place was operating in breach of the emergency decree.

Differences over Covid-19 management policies have turned many a friend to foe.

Not to mention that the BJT party has gained in popularity since the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) after becoming the new home of almost a dozen of its former MPs. Therefore, it's possible that the BJT will become coalition leader after the next election, and Mr Anutin could challenge a weary Gen Prayut for the role of PM.

In fact, it should be noted that Mr Anutin is named a possible PM every time the idea of a "unity government" comes up as a solution to a national crisis.

But the billionaire politician has dismissed the idea while the "three Pors" -- Prayut, Prawit (Wongsuwon) and Pom, (nickname of Anupong Paojinda) are still on the scene.

For Gen Prayut, if the vaccination campaign is successful, it could provide him with additional clout should the anti-government political activists resume their campaign. But if the government is deemed to have underperformed to the extent where lives are lost, he will face loud calls to resign.

So a well-oiled vaccination programme is essential. Not just for public health, but also the health of the administration.

As people are suffering from economic hardship, with so many losing jobs and income, they want a clear policy and truly responsive measures to return the country to the pre-Covid era. Such dreams cannot be fulfilled if politicians continue to treat the outbreak as a chance to score points.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.


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