Jab drive far too opaque

Jab drive far too opaque

If the Interior Ministry's approval of a request by Thai Beverage Public Company Limited (ThaiBev) to provide free Covid-19 vaccines to its employees and their families is lawful, why did it make a U-turn and cancel it?

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda dismissed the controversy as a simple miscommunication.

He insisted the ministry did not try to give favours to big corporations. He said while business organisations and groups are entitled to ask for free Covid-19 vaccines, they have to do so via the Mor Prom channel.

He also said that the decision who to distribute vaccines to belongs to the Centre for Covid-10 Situation Administration (CCSA).

The scandal erupted after a copy of a dispatch from the Interior Ministry telling the governor of every province to facilitate Covid-19 vaccination for 43,201 employees of ThaiBev and their 28,244 family members in Bangkok and 76 provinces was circulated online.

The letter enraged many people who are still waiting to be informed when they will get a vaccination. Criticism grew that the government could be playing favourites by putting the needs of the conglomerate over ordinary citizens.

Interior permanent secretary Chatchai Promlert denied favouritism. When asked whether the approval was appropriate as millions of people across the country have yet to receive jabs, Mr Chatchai said his action was lawful.

He also said his approval was in compliance with the guidelines of the National Communicable Diseases Committee.

Under the guidelines dated May 18, the public and private sectors can request vaccine doses for their personnel, especially in at-risk areas.

Mr Chatchai also said that many other organisations in the public and private sectors are requesting vaccine support, including the Federation of Thai Industries.

Despite Mr Chatchai's clarification, the ministry made an abrupt U-turn on Monday cancelling its earlier approval and order for provincial governors to facilitate vaccination for staff of the SET-listed company.

Whether it was a case of miscommunication or not, the case should not be roundly dismissed.

The scandal shows the high level of distrust that the public have for the government and its handling of the vaccination drive so far.

Delays, conflicting messages and confusion seem to have marked the national inoculation campaign. The uproar against ThaiBev's request was a tangible display of the increasing discontent and lack of confidence among the public.

The government should take this case and overhaul its vaccination communication. Instead of waiting to clarify matters on a case-by-case basis when there is a leak or public outcry, it should make public its criteria for vaccine distribution -- what organisations are qualified to ask for free doses, how many have applied and how many have been allocated.

The Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) set a laudable example in this regard. The CRA established clear criteria about which organisations are qualified to apply for its alternative vaccines and how the doses will be allocated. Once distributed, the type of organisations, number of people and doses allocated are also posted online for everyone to check.

The ThaiBev scandal should remind the government that it is best to shine the light on matters and make everything transparent when doubt arises. That is the key rule concerning mass communication in the time of crisis.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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