Govt jab rollout falls short of public's hopes

Govt jab rollout falls short of public's hopes

A few minutes after the prime minister entered Bang Sue Grand Station, dozens of officials formed lines and followed suit. Each wearing a face-mask and respecting social distancing, they were ready for the opening of the national vaccine rollout day on Monday.

It was absolutely the moment Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob were proud to show off to the prime minister and the whole country through the Thai Khoo Fah Facebook fanpage.

The next full hour entailed almost everything unnecessary you would expect to see in a state "ceremony". From a five-minute clip explaining the importance of the vaccine inoculation, ministers reading reports out loud, a tele-conference with regional teams who had to recruit some officials to "meet" with the prime minister, to a photo op, and a tour. Cashing in on the meaningless ceremony was already inappropriate -- the ministers didn't seem to realise the risks of the unnecessary site inspection for the prime minister and his entourage on vaccination day. Watching the scenes, I wish the government had put an equally serious effort into vaccine management, to earn public confidence and trust.

In most advanced countries, vaccination sites have been approved and set up by professionals without prime ministers stealing the show. And policy-makers are busy managing the rollout plan, ensuring enough vaccines are on hand and and no hiccups during the process, rather than finding a way to jump the queue for early vaccination or offering favours to their VIP friends.

According to the Rural Doctor Society, several hospitals received the vaccine on Sunday, forcing medical staff to work all night to ensure the kick-off for the next morning was possible.

The opening day on Monday went well, with more than 410,000 doses administered throughout the country. This means the current stock of around 2.75 million doses, both AstraZeneca and Sinovac, will be finished within just one week.

The high efficiency seems like good news and should fulfill the prime minister's dream of administering 100 million doses within this year. But where will the government find more vaccines to fill empty fridges after next week if the current stock really does finish?

The National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT) reported around 4.8 million of doses will be delivered this month. No specific dates have been given. Mr Anutin had probably foreseen the situation before the opening day. Before the kickoff, he suggested the nation slow down the pace of vaccination, perhaps so the public wouldn't notice the hiccup. What a genius solution!

The health minister doesn't seem to understand the people's anxiety and lack of confidence and trust, both in him and in the government. Apart from better management to curb emerging clusters throughout the capital, people are demanding a variety of vaccines and their availability in the market. But instead, the government has given us news of a variety of vaccine applications and an altogether nail-biting experience.

Two weeks ago, millions had to race to register themselves for the vaccine. Many booked a slot while quite a few tried to book through two or three apps to get a slot. This week, we'll have to pray there will be vaccines left when it gets to our turn.

The government repeatedly said they wanted to re-open the country as soon as herd immunity is achieved and everyone returns to the new-normal life, but their political moves don't seem in sync with that.

If they don't realise that the damage has already been done, here's a small example from a friend of mine.

Having been busy with international film productions for over 20 years, my friend became jobless for about a year during the pandemic. In March, she was back on track as local production crews began to get booked for films or commercials.

She became jobless again a few weeks ago. Many have cancelled production, others have postponed and quite a few hesitate to return.

She said although it wasn't officially announced, the local film crew knew the reason behind this abrupt change is the concerns over the government's failed management of the third wave, followed by multi-clusters in dense communities, construction sites and worker's camps.

The NNT reported that during pre-Covid times, Thailand gained 3.1 billion baht in 2018 from foreign productions. Revenue dropped to 1.7 billion baht last year and 1.2 billion baht in this year's first quarter.

The damage has clearly been done. If the powers that be only prioritise their interests, millions will have at least until the end of this year to ponder what we did wrong at the polling booth two years ago.

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