Jab allocation must be fair
To effectively control the coronavirus pandemic, the government must not only focus on importing vaccines. It's equally important to ensure vaccines are assigned appropriately to prioritised groups -- the elderly, those with seven underlying diseases and above all frontline medical workers.
Failing to do so will only fuel mistrust and indulge some of those in power to abuse their positions. Above all, it will result in more Covid cases. The government must be careful not to let crucially needed vaccines fall into the hands of certain VIP groups or even those non-assigned such as seen in a case in Buri Ram province, where 11 local police officers were given AstraZeneca as a booster shot despite claims they were not frontline workers.
The issue was raised last week after netizens claimed that 11 police officers at Ban Mai Chai Pot police station had been given AstraZeneca booster shots. Police officials later clarified that they had voluntarily signed up to transport Covid-19 patients, so they needed booster jabs to ensure sufficient protection against the disease, just like frontline workers. Buri Ram provincial police chief, Pol Col Rutthaphol Naowarat, said the decision was made by public health officials, not by the police force.
In total, 40 local officials, health volunteers and police officers signed up for the grim task and were given booster doses.
Buri Ram's health office stated that 7,964 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been set aside as booster shots for frontline medical personnel and workers. In total, it said, 3,533 people received a booster shot.
But the matter has brought up more debate about the fairness of vaccine allocation. Buri Ram province is the stronghold of Newin Chidchob, an adviser to Bhumjaithai, the political party headed by Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, and the province has been criticised for receiving a larger share of Covid vaccines despite it having a low case count. The province is also not strategically tipped as one of the 11 priority tourism provinces to be reopened.
Mr Anutin has not given a clear answer about why this has occurred. In the latest Buri Ram case, he said the task of allocating vaccines rested with the Department of Disease Control (DDC), and at the provincial level like in Buri Ram, vaccine allocation is decided by provincial DDC and provincial authorities.
The case in Buri Ram province might just be one of many. Is it possible that there are similar cases in other provinces? Is it possible that vaccines might be given to other VIP groups? It would not be a surprise if it happened in a country where cronyism and nepotism is alive and thriving.
At least it is positive to see that in order to clear up any misunderstandings, Buri Ram governor Thatchakorn Hatthathayakul has launched an investigation to determine if officers at Ban Mai Chai Pot station abused their positions to receive the booster shots. That move is a good start and the government needs to ensure that the investigation's outcome is publicised and any wrongdoers are held accountable.
Doing so should just be part of the government's commitment to providing the public with information about its vaccination plans which includes procurement details, pricing and above all vaccine quotas and exact deliveries and jab schedules.
As the Covid crisis deepens the government cannot afford to ignore public doubt. The best Covid management plan is one that gets public trust and cooperation. To earn trust, the government must show transparency first and foremost.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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