Don't forget migrants

Don't forget migrants

After almost one month of hiccups and disastrous management, the state vaccination programme which started on June 1 is gradually showing signs of functionality.

Those who had their vaccination appointments postponed have been summoned to get jabs and streams of vaccine supplies have been flown into the Land of Smiles.

In addition, the government has tailor-made vaccination programmes for vulnerable groups such as teachers in remote areas, homeless people and ethnic groups. Even so, one particular group -- migrant workers -- has been omitted from the state vaccination programme. That is worrying both in terms of morality and disease prevention.

These migrant workers are part of our society and during the past 20 years have been part of the workforce in lucrative sectors -- fisheries and food processing. Yet they live in the lowest rungs of society, in crowded, squalid spaces, subject to a high risk of Covid transmission and reinfection. They work in high-risk areas -- fresh markets, factories -- known as flashpoints of cluster infections.

A conservative estimate showed there are about two million migrant workers, both legal and illegal, in Thailand. Figures from the Bank of Thailand in 2019 showed the number of low-skilled migrant workers insured under Section 33 of the social security programme was 1,025,293, accounting for 8.7% of the total.

Under normal conditions, insured migrant workers are entitled to a vaccine from the Social Security Office that provides free Covid vaccines to workers insured under Section 33. Yet in reality, it remains unknown how many migrant workers have been inoculated under Section 33, how many are waiting for inoculation, and more importantly, how many are flying under the radar.

There have been complaints about insured migrant workers having trouble gaining access to vaccines. Employers must register for vaccines on their behalf and many have closed their businesses during Covid.

The Migrant Working Group, a local advocacy group, revealed that 41,784 migrant workers have been infected in the past 18 months. Among them 35,377 are Myanmar nationals. Also noteworthy is that infected migrant workers make up a sizeable 26,241 of the 203,784 total cases identified in cluster infections nationwide since April.

No figure has been released by the state that shows us how many migrant workers have been inoculated and how many are still waiting for jabs. It is unfair to say state officials are heartless. But it is an open secret that officials have been cautious about arranging vaccines for migrant labourers.

Adisorn Kerdphol, of the Migrant Working Group, this week said the ministry has been left in a dilemma. Providing vaccines to all migrant workers -- many of whom are here illegally -- opens the authority to criticism that it has failed to curb illegal entry and is using sought-after Covid vaccines on migrant labourers when they could be going to Thais. Mr Adisorn asked the state to provide vaccines to migrant workers regardless of their status.

It is about time the government comes to terms with the potential risk of ignoring such groups. While the government has vowed to inoculate up to 50% of the population to create so-called herd immunity, it is hard to believe the coronavirus can be reined in when migrant workers have not been inoculated properly.

In time, the government will suffer the consequences for failing to have migrant workers vaccinated. None of us will be safe unless all vulnerable groups -- especially migrant workers -- are safe too.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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