Govt jab management fails to hit home
Most critics sum up Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha government's performance in the management of vaccines procurement with one simple word: "suck". I couldn't agree more with that harsh summation and there is no need to further amplify that utter failure.
Yet that mismanagement, characterised by the zealous reliance on just two brands of vaccines, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, and shutting the door to the other vaccine makers, pales in comparison to the way the vaccines are being distributed and administered.
By virtue of an announcement by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) last Tuesday, procurements and imports of vaccines are now jointly handled by the Disease Control Department (DCD), Chulabhorn Royal Academy, the National Vaccine Institute, the Thai Red Cross Society, the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation and state agencies responsible for providing health and medical services to the public.
Private organisations or local administration organisations such as tambon administration organisations (TAOs) or provincial administration organisations (PAOs) can now procure vaccines for their own use through the DCD, Chulabhorn Royal Academy or others mentioned above.
But management of the distribution of vaccines and vaccinations remains mired in a big mess. The latest case is the mass vaccination of the Office of Social Security (OSS) for employees under the social security scheme.
Last Thursday, the OSS announced an abrupt end of its vaccination programme after 174,193 out of 200,000 employees or 87% were inoculated in the four days since June 7th, claiming that several of the 45 vaccination sites in Bangkok are unsuitable.
It also cited conflicting information about the employees to be vaccinated. They said the vaccinations would resume on June 28.
The OSS's decision to close all the vaccination venues sounds ridiculous at best. After 87% people were inoculated, the OSS realised the vaccination sites were unsuitable, with less than 30,000 people left to wait instead of having them vaccinated in just one day.
The OSS may not have told the truth about the abrupt closure of the 45 vaccination facilities, which may not in fact be about their unsuitability. Is it because it ran out of vaccines?
Both Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin had to go public the following day to announce that vaccinations for employees under the social security scheme will proceed and resume today, not on June 28 as notified by the OSS. Both assured there are sufficient vaccines.
This is just a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing which appears to illustrate the government's messy management of vaccine distribution and vaccinations.
Vaccinations for university personnel have also been disrupted and appointments postponed after a couple of days of operation.
Expats in Thailand appear to be in a limbo as many tried unsuccessfully via a special app for expats to register for vaccination appointments. French nationals here sought help from the French embassy to procure vaccines.
The government's claim of "reprioritising [the issue] of vaccines to those who need them most" sounds legitimate although this has caused some provinces to receive fewer vaccines.
But what is unacceptable is apparent political interference in the vaccine allocations, resulting in some provinces, which are not key tourist destinations or of economic importance, receiving more vaccines than others, which end up missing out.
Take, for an example, the case of Buri Ram province. Until June 8, the province had 209 infections, but it was allocated 151,70 doses of AZ and Sinovac vaccines, one among the top 10 provinces with the most vaccines received.
Until June 8, Bangkok received 1,855,653 doses of the two vaccines, but it has reported 48,580 infections since April 1.
Why were provinces such as Pathum Thani with 4,840 infections or Phetchaburi which had 7,579 infections given fewer vaccines than Buri Ram, well known for its motorcycle race course owned by Newin Chidchob, the de facto leader of Bhumjai Thai Party?
In the wake of this mess, the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovations, on Saturday unashamedly came up with self-consolatory statistics showing Thailand now ranks No.3 among Asean member countries for having administered the most (5,667,058) vaccine doses, after No.1 Indonesia and No.2 the Philippines.
But there is no cause to take pride in such figures.
They are meaningless unless they are compared in proportion with the population in which case Thailand is ranked No.4 from the bottom within Asean. Only 6.3% of the Thai population has been inoculated, less than Laos' 9.5%, Cambodia's 16.5%, Singapore's 42.5%, Malaysia's 8.3% and Indonesia's 7.1%.
The ministry should have focused on promoting Thai universities to come up with new innovations such as reliable and affordable test kits for Thais, because we may have to live with the virus for who knows how many more years.
Besides wearing a facemask, owning a Covid test kit may be a new normal for the safety of our family and communities.
With a new group of people in charge of procuring vaccines, it is hoped the management of procurement will be smoother and more efficient.
That is not good enough. What's next after we have achieved herd immunity with 70% of the population inoculated?
What is the post-Covid vision of the government for Thailand and its people?
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.