COVID-19: Thailand Begins Mass Vaccinations amid Rising Infections

Nontarat Phaicharoen
COVID-19: Thailand Begins Mass Vaccinations amid Rising Infections People hold their plaster patches after being administered doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Narathiwat Hospital compound in Narathiwat, Thailand, June 7, 2021.

Thailand on Monday kicked off a long awaited national campaign to inoculate the general population against the coronavirus disease, amid a soaring wave of infections during which Thais have heavily criticized the government for being slow to roll out vaccines.

More than 4 million people of the nearly 70 million population have received at least one jab since the limited rollout began on Feb. 28, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said Monday.

“Today we administered vaccine in all [77] provinces based on the severity in respective areas to prevent the spread [of COVID-19,” Prayuth said while visiting a stadium in Bangkok that had been converted into a vaccination center.

“Since Feb. 28, we have administered over 4 million dose of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines.”

Opas Kankawinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department, said 143,116 people were inoculated in 986 centers nationwide on Monday.

As of Sunday, about 4.2 million people had gotten COVID-19 jabs, with 2.8 million of them having received their first shot and 1.3 million being fully vaccinated, officials said.

The mass campaign began after Thai company Siam Bioscience, in cooperation with Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, delivered 1.8 million of the 6 million doses it announced that it would produce, officials said. They did not say when Siam Bioscience would deliver the remaining vaccines.

The mass inoculation comes when new COVID-19 infections have risen more than six-fold and related deaths have increased 12.5 times since a third coronavirus wave began on April 1 from nightlife spots in downtown Bangkok, data from the national anti-COVID task force showed.

Thailand logged 2,429 new cases on Monday, lifting the cumulative caseload to 179,886, while the virus-related death toll rose to 1,175, after 33 overnight deaths.

To meet the demand for vaccines, Thailand signed a contract with Johnson & Johnson on Monday, Prayuth and his spokesman said. The country expects a total of 25 million doses from Johnson and from Pfizer, whose officials signed an initial agreement with Thailand last week.

So far, Thailand has received 6.5 million doses from China’s Sinovac and almost 2 million doses from AstraZeneca via South Korea and Siam Bioscience.

“Today, we’ve signed a booking for vaccines from Johnson and Johnson,” Prayuth said, adding that he now expected to acquire 100 million doses from various drug makers so far.

The Thai PM gave no details about when the country would receive all these doses.

The U.S. government has donated $30 million in total COVID-related assistance to Thailand. 

Last week, the U.S. government announced a framework for sharing 80 million vaccine doses globally by the end of June.

The plan for the distribution of the first 25 million doses includes 7 million for Asia, including Thailand. This is in addition to the $4 billion U.S. commitment to COVAX.

Thailand is not a participant in COVAX because it is not a low-income country, according to the public health minister.

Criticism of rollout

Opposition leaders and others have criticized the Thai government for what they say is a slow rollout of vaccines and confusing apps to sign up for the jabs.

“I signed up via the ‘Mor Prom’ app and secured an appointment but it was voided. The government was not ready [with vaccines] and flip flopped,” Dokfai Krongkul, a 41-year-old businesswoman in Bangkok, told BenarNews.

“We have to call the hospital which cannot give us a definite answer either. I wish the government can arrange easy access for us.”

A woman who identified herself as Janjira, 36, said she believed the vaccine would protect from being severely infected.

“I read some research, and though the vaccine cannot shield us from infection 100 percent, it prevents death and severe sickness, so I took the jab. … The country could be back on track like other countries,” Janjira, a Bangkok resident, told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, Thais via social media also criticized the government for arms deals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after information leaked about a purchase of tanks from China.

Last week, a report said that three VN-16 amphibious light tanks from China were set to arrive at a Thai port on May 31.

A Thai Navy spokesman confirmed the 398 million baht (U.S. $12.8 million) purchase but defended the acquisition as one that had been planned before the spread of COVID-19.

“The purchase plan of the VN-16 amphibious was in line with Fiscal Year 2020 under the navy’s minimal acquisition plan for maintaining security,” Adm. Chettha Jaipiem told BenarNews last week.

“The procurement was conducted before the spread of COVID-19.”


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