Govt spurred its own jab PR fiasco

Govt spurred its own jab PR fiasco

The high-profile Covid vaccine event on Monday -- in which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was given his second shot of AstraZeneca vaccine -- should have been a game-changing PR campaign that promotes the state vaccine programme. Yet the event turned into a PR calamity that stirred up critics, rather than boosting much-needed public confidence.

Unfortunately, the ceremonious event attended by high-ranking executives of the Public Health Ministry was just held at the wrong time.

While society gets angrier about the delayed vaccination drive, the image of the prime minister showing his vaccine passport made him look like a showman, indulging in a display of privilege. Clutching a vaccine passport in his hands, while the majority in this country don't even know when they will get their first shot, sows seeds of disunity.

What's noteworthy is that the day before, the ministry changed its vaccine plan by lengthening the period between administering the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the second from 10 to 16 weeks, a wait of more than two months. The PM, however, got his second dose exactly 10 weeks after his first shot.

If that's not enough, while the PM had his second Covid jab, that same day in the same capital city, at least two hospitals, Vachira Hospital and Chulabhorn Royal Academy, abruptly postponed second shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The hospitals said they had not received the vaccines. Then, the ministry adjusted the jab programme by allowing those older than 60 to have Sinovac instead of waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some netizens also complained that vaccination bookings for their parents were cancelled without explanation.

The whole country started to suspect the mysterious disappearance of the second half of AstraZeneca batch, or about 55,000 doses, that were supposed to be in reserve for the second shot.

Even worse, people questioned if a new batch of vaccines would be delivered on time. The public even doubts whether the government has the capacity to achieve much-needed herd immunity by having 50-plus million people inoculated by the end of the year.

The government is facing a communication problem that stems from its own making. Its communications lack clarity, consistency and, above all, show disregard for public feelings and understanding.

The authorities sometimes give irrelevant information that leaves unanswered questions and an air of uncertainty. Why is it now necessary for the Public Health Ministry to reverse its statements and change its plans as that is not good for the authorities or society?

The latest communication faux pas was at a press briefing on Tuesday when Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul insisted to the media that the AstraZeneca producer would deliver the next lot of vaccine as planned.

To many people's surprise, the minister carried on -- as usual -- adding that the producer never promised to deliver the vaccine by June 1.

The chatty minister went on to talk about a lot of things except telling people what they wanted to know -- the exact date when the vaccine will be delivered.

Mr Anutin's knack for miscommunication seems to be undermining the state jab rollout. A few days before, he made another communication faux pas, by explaining to the media that the state would save money by maximising 12 shots per vial, instead of the designed 10 shots per vial.

The next day, Opas Kankawinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department, came out to allay public fears.

He had to explain in detail about the possibility of drawing 12 shots, under the so called "low dead space syringe", a common vaccination practice recommended by World Health Organization (WHO).

It was nice to learn that Thailand meets WHO standards. But I'm not sure if the public needs this particular piece of information. This is not a self-service vaccination so the only people who need to know the "low dead space" technique are nurses and doctors.

Giving unnecessary pieces of information at the wrong time only make people worry. After the headache of the Mor Prom app, which left people wondering when they will get the jab, people started to worry if they would receive an underdose.

In recent weeks, we've seen the authorities make announcements only to retract them a few days later. This reflects poor management and a lack of discussion among top decision-makers.

The authorities should be more careful when making public statements related to the vaccine programme.

Perhaps it's time for the government to do something simple -- set up a Line group chat to discuss matters among themselves first, before confusing the public further.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai


Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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