Former senior cop turns to vaccine drive
Ex-MPB chief spearheads Pathum Thani's drive to offer alternative jabs to locals
The Pathum Thani Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) is set to blaze a trail for PAOs elsewhere in offering an alternative Covid-19 vaccine quickly before people's patience runs out.
Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit Toopkrajang, chairman of the Pathum Thani PAO, has declared every second counts in battling the deadly virus.
Elected to the Pathum Thani PAO's top job in December, the former police commissioner had a high-profile career in the Royal Thai Police, retiring nine years ago as Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) commissioner.
He is known widely for his personal slogan: 'I've come this far because of Pi,' a reference to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to whom he feels he owes a debt of gratitude and in whom he holds a deep respect.
Breaking a lengthy silence, Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit stood for Pathum Thani PAO chairman in elections last December. He won 252,499 votes, beating the three-time previous PAO leader, Charn Puangphet, by more than 30,000 votes.
He could not have taken on the job at a worse time. He was sworn into office at the onset of the second Covid-19 outbreak and the virus has proven to be a tough challenge.
The current third wave of the pandemic has sent Pathum Thani, one of the badly-infected provinces, into a tailspin. Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit complained his province was given only enough vaccines to inoculate 31,000 people, a fraction of its population.
As people in the provinces wait impatiently for the vaccine to trickle down to them, the Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) announced late last month that China's Sinopharm vaccine has been registered in Thailand and the institute will import it for re-sale as an alternative vaccine.
Sinopharm would be an alternative to the two vaccines, produced by Sinovac and AstraZeneca, being offered for free jabs under the national vaccination programme.
The Pathum Thani PAO immediately wrote to the CRA asking to pre-order the vaccine which the agency was to pay for from its own pocket.
It was reported the Pathum Thani PAO would collect orders from other PAOs interested in purchasing the Sinopharm vaccine from the CRA.
The Pathum Thani PAO would also manage the paperwork, purchase plan and distribution of the vaccine to the other PAOs.
However, the PAOs ran into a stumbling block after being warned by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam that they were not permitted law to buy the vaccine from their own budgets unless the Interior Ministry amended a regulation to make this possible.
The ministry, meanwhile, insisted that not all PAOs could afford the vaccine. If some went ahead and bought the vaccine while others could only stand by and watch, some might get upset.
The ministry suggested the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) should handle the PAO vaccine procurement, despite Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha agreeing in principle with local organisations obtaining the vaccine to help with the rollout.
Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit said he has been in contact with the CRA over the vaccine procurement, which he says holds the answer to the province's vaccination drive.
Earlier, he attended a press conference between Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and the CRA to announce the planned Sinopharm imports.
"We came away feeling at ease, secure in the knowledge that we now have another vaccine to choose from," the Pathum Thani PAO chief said.
However, the vaccine being allocated by the government was nowhere near enough. In Pathum Thani, the non-resident population alone exceeds two million, outstripping the number of its residents at 1.16 million, according to 2019 figures.
Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit said the Pathum Thani PAO has verbally pre-ordered 500,000 doses of the Sinophram vaccine.
"Our PAO will tap into our accumulated budget reserve to finance the purchase. The spending requires special permission from the Interior Ministry."
He added the prime minister, as head of the CCSA, has agreed the PAOs and Tambon Administrative Organisations (TAOs) should be free to spend the reserve fund for the cause.
The PAO Council would pool vaccine orders from PAOs nationwide. Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit said he would arrange for the council to present the order to the CRA.
Once the vaccine is obtained, the council will ensure its distribution to the PAOs.
He expected the first one million doses of Sinopharm will arrive in the middle of this month and another 20 million doses will be supplied in the months ahead.
"I think the vaccine will arrive in time. There is not a second to waste," he said.
The Pathum Thani PAO, he said, will not take the credit for being a model of vaccine procurement and distribution. "Any province can do it," he added.
Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit said a province would be able to avoid a high Covid 19-induced fatality rate if it can inoculate at least 60% of its population. The PAOs are working flat-out to source the vaccine.
However, his job is not over yet: Designating vaccination venues and organising inoculations for large groups will also present a challenge.
At 68, Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit looks back at his days in the police where he leapt through the ranks before landing the post of commander of Narathiwat provincial police entrusted to him by Thaksin, then premier, in 2003. His job was to quell unrest in the far South.
He served in other coveted posts including commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 1 and the MPB chief.
Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit said initially he did not set his sights on entering politics. He was told Pathum Thani could do with more development work and less graft.
He told his aides that he would only agree to contest the PAO polls if he received his mother's blessing. His aides later succeeded in convincing her.
Although the work he does as Pathum Thani PAO chief is very dfifferent from the police job he retired from years ago, he refuses to give in to the challenge of beating the virus.