As the country is being hit by a new wave of coronavirus infections fuelled by the Omicron variant, the Prayut Chan-o-cha government must accelerate the booster rollout to better control the pandemic. Yet, this crucial mission is plagued with confusion.
The country had recorded 2,062 Omicron infections as of Jan 4, with 957 of these being domestic transmissions. With Omicron-related infections having been detected in 54 provinces, Thailand is now in the unenviable position of having the 15th highest number of Omicron infections in the world. The Health Ministry expects infections to mount further.
So far, it's fortunate that Omnicron, despite the spike, is considered controllable, with relatively low deaths, at 20-30 a day, thanks to the national vaccination programme. On Dec 19, the Public Health Ministry achieved its 100-million-dose target, while total jabs have hit 104 million doses. The government aims to roll out 120 million doses this year.
Despite the high vaccination rate, the booster programme is in disarray. Disorganisation among state agencies leaves those in need of the third jab in confusion.
While some hospitals offer a walk-in service, other places which limit the vaccination service to their old recipients nevertheless have failed to communicate with people.
Confusion reigns supreme given the fact that the government, and some virologists like Dr Yong Poovorawan, said they were to cut the delay between the second and third jabs from six months to three months to better cope with the Omicron variant.
The authorities again gave contradictory statements. Previously, the Disease Control Department (DCD) under the Health Ministry, the state body that oversees vaccinations, told people to wait for an appointment alert from its Mor Prom mobile application.
But some people have complained they are still in the dark as to where to get the booster shot.
In its latest move, the ministry said it was to launch a registration system via the Line platform.
Again, the new system, like Mor Prom, has technical glitches as some people were unable to complete the online registration form.
It's also unclear if the ministry is aware that some hospitals that previously provided first and second jabs have refused to join the booster programme.
In short, the booster programme is a mess just like the previous vaccination drive last year. Back then, things grew worse still when some politicians intervened to obtain supplies for their constituents.
Apparently, the ministry has failed to learn from the previous vaccination setbacks it experienced when launching the rollout last year as state agencies scrambled to secure supplies amid vaccine shortages.
That the same problem is repeating itself now is unacceptable especially when vaccine supplies seem abundant.
The ministry must fix the problem and do more to improve vaccine distribution. It must know that previous inoculation priorities which focused on major economic areas and tourist cities have caused a vaccine disparity, as some small and remote provinces like Kalasin have recorded low vaccination rates.
This probably explains why these off-the-radar provinces are now Omicron hotspots in the new virus wave.
So, changes are needed to the vaccination programme to ensure better distribution and narrow the inoculation gap. Otherwise it will be difficult for the country to beat the Covid-19 pandemic.