Murky start to jab rollout may get murkier

Murky start to jab rollout may get murkier

Isn't it about time for the government to unveil all the details about its Covid-19 vaccine procurement deals, whether with AstraZeneca or SinoVac? Without full disclosure, doubts will continue to dog its vaccination drive.

Its ambitious goal of administering 100 million shots by year's end is unlikely to succeed with such a lack of confidence. The stakes are too high for it to fail.

For many people in the country, a vaccine offers the only hope to get back on their feet, to regain a semblance of "normal" life and start to breathe and live again. It is also the only means of reviving the economy.

The government's financial aid, no matter how many trillions there are, will be lost unless people are free to move about and resume their businesses.

The mass vaccination rollout is literally the nation's lifeline. The government's implementation so far has been shaky. There is no reason why it should continue to run the campaign in the same, seemingly unorganised way when it has clearly resulted in multiple failures and massive confusion.

Big talk and attempts to save face by insisting its procurement plans have always been correct and there are enough vaccines for everyone apparently do not work.

If there were enough vaccines, hospitals and vaccination centres would not have put up announcements saying they were not allocated enough jabs for those who registered.

The queue goes well into August for some hospitals. Many of them have already delayed jabs for those who were scheduled to get them beyond mid-June. Some said they were allocated enough vaccines to last only a few days.

Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha said he was aware of the shortage. But Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has insisted that provincial governors and public health chiefs will have to manage the situation and vaccination rollouts in their areas.

How? Without the supply, what is there to manage?

The government earlier said it would receive 6 million doses of AstraZeneca in June. Since it set the rollout to start yesterday, it was assumed the 6 million jabs would arrive before that date.

As it turned out, Mr Anutin later said June does not necessarily mean the first day of June. The government did receive 1.8 million doses from AstraZeneca before the rollout with a promise that a few more million will gradually be delivered this month.

Did the government make an agreement for flexible delivery dates with AstraZeneca? The question is pertinent as delivery dates do affect the vaccination plan.

If the deal does specify the amount of vaccines to be delivered and the timing, then it becomes even more crucial to ask why the government appears to have cut AstraZeneca slack.

Since the government's own words have been somewhat ambiguous in this case, the best way to clarify the issue would be to put all the details of the procurement contracts on the table.

Transparency will help the government's future rollout plans. With everyone on the same page, it would be easier to manage the stocks and people's expectations.

The government may have its rationale for distributing the jabs this way, spreading limited supplies around the country so that each station could start vaccination on the same day yesterday but with just a small amount so stocks would last only one or two days.

The approach might work in generating publicity. But what is the point when that drive might grind to a halt within a few days?

With vaccine supplies limited, wouldn't the government be better off if it could come up with a more strategic rollout to ensure that the available jabs achieve the best possible result?

The reality is the government had only about 3.5 million doses in its hands in early June. Its hope of receiving another 3 million doses before month's end remains just that.

With the supply being inadequate, its so-called priorities appear all over the place. It said the elderly and sick are prioritised for the vaccines. But there are 16 million of them when the number of vaccine doses available stands at 3.5 million.

What about outbreak hotspots? People in the tourism sector? Those under the social security scheme who are supposed to be drivers of the economy? In an attempt to save face, the government seems to have made everyone a priority with the result that no-one is.

Many so-called priority groups are scheduled to receive the jabs later than celebrities and officials. Many who showed up to receive the vaccine yesterday reported they failed to get one.

The government must stop all the murk and confusion with its vaccination scheme. Total transparency is called for to avoid further failure. Let's start with the details about the vaccine deals.

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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