The Thai government assured the population months ago that a plan to distribute free coronavirus vaccines, drawn up in the country, would take effect in early June. Thus, about 70% of the national population would be vaccinated by the end of the year, according to health authorities.
Then the delays started, just as the country was facing the worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began. On Sunday evening (13), nearly a week after the vaccination program was supposed to start at an accelerated pace, hospitals in Bangkok announced that their confirmed vaccination schedules had been canceled.
There has been no explanation as to the reason for the cancellation or when applications will be postponed.
The effect of what appears to be a massive shortage of vaccines made in Thailand is spilling over to other parts of the region, where vaccination campaigns lag far behind those in Western countries. The governments of Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan have announced a reduction in vaccine distribution due to shipments from Thailand, which were delivered in lower numbers than expected.
(Thailand has denied claims that it is its fault.)
Last year, Thailand was designated AstraZeneca’s regional vaccine production center. A contract was signed with Siam Bioscience, a pharmaceutical company controlled by the King of Thailand and with no previous experience in manufacturing vaccine agents.
The country’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has warned that criticism of the company could be considered a criminal offense under the kingdom’s strict libel laws. An opposition politician who asked how Siam Bioscience got the contract has been accused of unfairness this year.
Although Thailand was the first country to report a coronavirus case outside of China, in January 2020 it contained the spread of the virus for most of the year. By the end of 2020, it had recorded, in total, less than 5,000 cases of coronavirus. But today Thailand is dealing with thousands of new cases a day. As of Monday (14), only about 23% of the population had been fully immunized.
Phatorn Chingduang, an employee of a shipping company, was due to receive the first dose of AstraZeneca on Saturday, along with 15 other people from the company he works for. The day before the vaccination, he received a message canceling the scheduled time. “The government is not doing enough,” Phatorn said. “This vaccine drama is very bad.”
The recriminations ring out. At least five Bangladeshi hospitals said on Monday they did not have enough doses. All vaccines in Thailand are distributed by the country’s Ministry of Health.
The file responded, claiming to have sent the promised doses to local authorities, responsible for specific allocations to each hospital. Vaccines for at least 50 million people have been requested, Opas Karnkawinpong, director of the disease control department, said on Monday.
The same day, Aswin Kwanmuang, governor of Bangkok, spoke of “technical difficulties” and indicated that mass vaccination in the capital would be suspended on Tuesday. “Bancoc will resume vaccination as soon as we have received the doses,” he said.
As factories and prisons in the Bangkok area struggled with escalating epidemics on Monday, officials said parks and museums would reopen in the capital, facilitating a multi-month lockdown.
Tattoo and massage parlors will also resume their activities.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves