OPTIMISM ABOUT COMING COVID VACCINATIONS – BUT UNCERTAINTIES REMAIN FOR FOREIGNERS

Despite the disappointing speed of the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations in Thailand to date, there’s a growing, but guarded, optimism that the tide is turning, both for foreigners and for the broader regional community.  However the priority of foreigners remains in doubt, with mixed messages given by the relevant officials.   

PRIORITY FOR THAIS OR REGARDLESS OF NATIONALITY?

“Anybody living in Thailand, whether they be Thai or foreign, if they want the vaccine, they can get it,” said Opas Kankawinpong, head of the disease control department.  “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” he added.

“Three million foreigners living in Thailand have as much right to Covid-19 vaccinations as Thais because the goal is to achieve herd immunity.  The policy is to vaccinate everyone in Thailand no matter whether they are Thais or foreigners. This would be carried out with people’s consent and without discrimination, said Rungruang Kitpati, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry.

The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) also says that Thailand’s vaccination strategy is based on ensuring accessibility to all those who require it, regardless of their nationality, adding that Thailand continues to include foreign residents in its vaccination program. CCSA deputy spokesperson Dr Apisamai Srirangsan went on to say “priority is given to those deemed to be most at risk as the first to be inoculated.”

After a meeting on 6th May, the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce released the outcome of a meeting with the Prime Minister (a week earlier) stating there will be no discrimination between Thais and foreigners. 

The statement goes on to say that after those in the ‘Dark Red Zone’, the second priority are those over 60 years of age and those with underlying illnesses.  The rest of the population then follows.  ”The foreign community may receive the vaccine in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, but those with Thai spouses may receive the vaccination earlier.”

Priority to vaccinate higher risk individuals, usually those over 60 years of age and/or with pre-existing medical conditions is a broad policy position.  Whether that means giving such a priority to higher risk foreigners over younger, able bodied Thais remains uncertain and seems likely to be decided at a provincial or even district level.  

That issue has been highlighted in a recent In Bangkok announcement.  In contradiction to the stated ‘non-discrimination policy, Panruedee Manomaipiboon, director of the Bangkok Municipal Authority’s health department has stated: “As I have said before, the Health Ministry plans to vaccinate Thais first. We will try our best to vaccinate Thais within 2 months, namely June and July, and then try to open foreign resident registration in August.”

However from June, foreigners will be able to register via a mobile app or at a local government hospital, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Thanee Saengrat has announced.  The app, which hasn’t yet been released, will help facilitate the registration process for foreigners, Mr Thanee said.

A more recent announcement (May 12th) by Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul states that people in Thailand will able to get COVID-19 vaccines without the need to make an appointment.

The move comes following approval from the National Vaccine Committee of walk-in COVID-19 facilities in all provinces in Thailand.   The walk-in facilities will be managed by each provincial authority and will form part of Thailand’s mass vaccination program, Mr Anutin said.

From June, people who registered using the Mor Prom mobile app, those who are receiving the vaccine as part of a group, such as those working in the private sector or tourism industry or those who had been unable to register for the jab online will start to receive the vaccine, in addition to those who use the walk-in centres.

Locally, walk-in facilities are proposed for every district.  A number of locations have been put forward as venues, including the Thanarat Camp Infantry Center in Pranburi, Prachuap Wittayalai School Auditorium and the Provincial Stadium’s gymnasium.

In Hua Hin, the management of Market Village, Blúport, and Centara Grand Hua Hin Hotel have also been reported to have given their consent for those venues to be used as walk in centres. 

In Cha-Am announcements have been made that the municipality and hospital precincts will commence providing vaccinations for high risk groups from 12th June, without mention of nationality.  The confirmed locations of the walk-in centres in these and other localities will be announced in due course.

Local Lobbying 

A group of local entrepreneurs led by Mr Krod Rojanasthien and Miss Wassana Srikarnchana. have handed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin Charnvirakul, their plan for Hua Hin to recover quickly, re-emerge from lockdown, and come back to being even better than before.

This is labelled ‘The Hua Hin Recharge Project”; requesting that vaccination be prioritised to the region due to the large numbers of short term visitors, both foreign and Thai.  They feel that if residents and workers receive the vaccine early, it will enable a faster return to normal due to the confidence felt by potential visitors. Mr Anutin said he will take the matter to the cabinet to expedite further consideration.

Bangkok Developments

In Bangkok, the government has been working in close collaboration with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration or BMA and the private sectors through the Board of Trade of Thailand to set up 14 vaccination units outside hospitals to facilitate easier access to vaccines for people in Bangkok. 

Most of them are department stores, private companies, and patrol stations.  Each will work with designated hospitals that will provide medical staff to give vaccine jabs. The Board of Trade of Thailand has also proposed to launch 11 more vaccination units in the near future.  Once all 25 units are in operation, they will be able to serve about 38,000 – 50,000 people per day during seven months period.

The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) will use industrial estates countrywide as vaccination venues, as it plans to join the private sector in speeding up distribution of vaccines to factory workers.

FOOTNOTE:

A Hua Hin medical centre has offered a small number of Covid-19 vaccines to its members who would need to travel to a Bangkok hospital.  The deal is for Astra Zeneca vaccines (subject to change) requiring 2 shots.  The first shot is scheduled for the end of June/early July, the second 8 to 12 weeks later.  The fee for the 2 shots is yet to be confirmed, however it’s expected to be around THB3,000 – 3,500.  Any takers?

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