Govt urged to 'give people the facts' on vaccine shortages

Govt urged to 'give people the facts' on vaccine shortages

Namarak Hospital director Youwanush Kongdan describes the shortage of vaccines during a Facebook Live session on Sunday. (Photo from Youwanush Kongdan Facebook account)
Namarak Hospital director Youwanush Kongdan describes the shortage of vaccines during a Facebook Live session on Sunday. (Photo from Youwanush Kongdan Facebook account)

The vaccine problem at a small hospital in Bangkok reflects a question many are asking: Where are they?

Youwanush Kongdan, the director of Namarak, a 10-bed, private hospital specialising in breast cancer treatment, took the problem to her Facebook page on Sunday with some timely suggestions for the Public Health Ministry.

"I am making an appeal to the government that it should give people the facts and communicate with them in a straightforward manner," she said.

"If you have sufficient vaccines, please say so. If you don't have enough vaccines, you also should say so and tell people when the vaccines will come."

"People will accept that," she added.

The contradictory statements and mixed messaging have left both hospitals and the general public confused and upset. A week before he kicked off a nationwide vaccination drive on June 7, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared the country would not encounter vaccine shortages. Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha, however, admitted on the eve of the launch that vaccine delays were possible but promised that the problem would not derail the campaign.

Namarak was one of the hospitals that signed up. The Huai Kwang facility has been an authorised  vaccination centre since June 7, but was told on Saturday that no jab deliveries were available for the June 14-20 week.

The hospital and its director posted a message on their Facebook accounts on Saturday to inform people who had made appointment for jabs that the vaccines had not arrived.

The message also said any questions should be referred to the Mor Prom app call centre or the public health minister.

Dr Youwanush made the same announcement on her Facebook page, saying "Sad news of the week. We've been forced to take a break."

On Sunday morning, she was awoken up by a member of her hospital staff with unwelcome news: Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul relayed through a ministry official that he was not happy with the reference to "the public health minister" included in the Facebook posts. She described subsequent talks with Thares Krassanairawiwong, the director of the Health Service Support Department, as "amicable" -- but he demanded that that reference to Mr Anutin be dropped from the annoucement.

Dr Youwanush later replaced "the public health minister" with "related state agencies."

According to the vaccination campaign procedure, the ministry distributes vaccines to City Hall's Health Department. The Health Department of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is then supposed to roll them out to hospitals in the capital by Saturday, in time for the following week.

During the Facebook Live session, Dr Youwanush defended her citation of the public health minister, saying he mapped out the policy himself and someone must be held accountable for delivery problems.  

"The (public health) minister is the commander-in-chief who sets the policy," she said. "Or is it the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration now?"

As Namarak Hospital had to cancel scheduled vaccinations due to vaccine shortages, the hospital director questioned where the vaccines for people insured under Section 33 of the Social Security Act would come from.

The Social Security Office announced on Friday it would postpone the jap drive for two weeks to June 28 due to supply issues. A day later, Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin abruptly promised the jab programme for company employees would resume on Monday.

The frustrated hospital director said more clarity was needed on the criteria behind vaccine distribution.  

"This war (against the coronavirus outbreak) needs a clear policy and quick communications," she said.

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