Local bodies relish chance to pitch in

Local bodies relish chance to pitch in

Mayors want chance to buy and oversee jabs to help locals

Mayor of Nakhon Yala and president of the National Municipal League of Thailand Pongsak Yingchoncharoen
Mayor of Nakhon Yala and president of the National Municipal League of Thailand Pongsak Yingchoncharoen

Local Administrative Organisations (LAOs) are now authorised to procure FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccines for distribution to local residents using their own funds.

In an interview, mayor of Nakhon Yala and president of the National Municipal League of Thailand (NMLT) Pongsak Yingchoncharoen hails the government's move to free up the rules.

He said he expects local bodies to play a supporting role in the national vaccination campaign even though they cannot purchase the jabs directly from suppliers.

Is the state order allowing the LAOs to procure vaccines with some conditions good enough for local organisations?

Easing the restrictions is a good start. The organisations are still required to procure from agencies such as the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO), the Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) or the Thai Red Cross Society.

But this is not an issue because what the government and local bodies want is to address public concerns about access to vaccines. The government order is a good fit in the current situation.

When do LAOs expect to get the vaccines and how many do they plan to purchase?

Five vaccines have been approved for emergency use by the FDA. AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines are procured through the GPO while Sinopharm vaccine will be imported by the CRA.

We are unlikely to procure AstraZeneca and Sinovac because supplies are limited [their order books are full due to advance purchase orders].

We are looking to buy alternative vaccines and the only choice available now is the Sinopharm vaccine. As for Moderna, it is agreed the vaccine will be distributed to private hospitals which set the price at 3,800 baht per two doses.

No local bodies have allocated budgets for procurement of Covid-19 vaccines because early this year we were barred by the state auditor from spending our own funds to acquire the vaccines. Now that situation has changed and local bodies will have to use their accumulated savings which requires approval from local councils.

The Yala council is proposing to buy 25,000 doses at 900 baht apiece, so about 20 million baht is needed.

Does this mean not every council has such savings?

Right. Some municipalities do not have savings as they might have spent them on investment schemes. However, it must be stressed that it is the government's job to allocate the vaccines. Local bodies will assume a supporting role only, especially when there are urgent needs or shortages.

There are also provincial administrative organisations (PAOs) which can provide a subsidy to those in the lower tiers.

What about the management plan?

The NMLT will provide information about the alternative vaccine programme to municipalities but they will have to place their vaccine orders directly with the CRA.

Municipalities are also expected to forge alliances to help with vaccine management, such as storage to transport to jab administration and medical observation. Their ally can be a state-run hospital or a privately-run medical facility.

Forming alliances with state-run hospitals is unlikely to incur further costs. Given the nationwide vaccine rollout, these facilities' resources could be extended to their fullest capacity. However, local bodies may have to meet service fees which are estimated at 100-150 baht per head.

The CRA has a vaccine management committee to handle distribution of vaccine. It is also expected to distribute the vaccine based on need. High-risk areas are likely to be given priority.

Is there any discussion about vaccine prioritisation in the NMLT?

We have informed NMLT members about the process and have received some inquiries. Essentially, those in high-risk areas want the vaccine as soon as possible and those in low-risk areas may wait for the government's vaccine rollout.

Will local bodies with a tourism reopening plan get prioritised?

The government has given priority to tourism provinces or towns. Phuket is the first, followed by Krabi and Surat Thani's Koh Samui.

Can you give details about the vaccination management plan in Yala municipality?

It is in charge of procuring the vaccines and will work with provincial health authorities and Yala Regional Hospital in determining at-risks groups who are not yet covered by the government's vaccination programme. Those who work in the transport sector, shopkeepers and vendors will be among the first to get the jabs.

If this is not an emergency, do you have any suggestions about the vaccine rollout in terms of decentralisation?

It is important to understand there is nothing better than working together to get the vaccine to the people.

It is a race against time, as the virus spreads quickly. However, when the government gives the authority to local bodies to take action, it has to give them resources. Without a budget, nothing can get done.

Local leaders such as mayors feel they belong to their communities. If they are allowed to procure vaccines for locals, they will get the chance to help their communities. This is why decentralisation should be promoted.

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