A coalition of Thailand-based American organizations is leading an appeal to the U.S. government to deliver vaccines to tens of thousands of Americans in Thailand as a pilot project that could later be expanded globally, according to Paul Risley, chairperson of Democrats Abroad Thailand and a United Nations consultant.
“Americans who live abroad need to be vaccinated for the same reasons that Americans who live in the United States need to be vaccinated,” Risley he said; “because it’s the only way to stop COVID-19.”
Expatriate Republicans echo the Democrats’ concern. “In this particular case, all of us are on board,” said Tony Rodriguez, vice president of Republicans Overseas Asia, “obviously, there’s plenty of vaccines in America. Just get them on a plane and fly them over.”
The two groups, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 12074, and American Women’s Club, have signed a joint letter asking Washington to get vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — namely Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — into the arms of overseas Americans as soon as possible.
In the letter, they asked “that our government now continue to fulfill the pledge made by President (Joe) Biden to make coronavirus vaccines available to all Americans.”
Addressing U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the groups also proposed that Thailand, with its robust health infrastructure, “could serve an ideal testbed for a pilot project for the U.S. Government to deliver approved and effective vaccines to the tens of thousands of private U.S. citizens living here, and then ultimately replicate that effort for the large number of other Americans living overseas.”
“Would the logistics of such a project be challenging?” the letter asks. “Perhaps, but Americans excel at dealing with precisely these sorts of challenges, especially via the public and private sector partnerships which could undoubtedly be brought to bear.”
When asked about the Thai letter, a State Department spokesperson said “The Department does not provide direct medical care to private U.S. citizens abroad. We are committed to providing all possible consular assistance to U.S. citizens in need overseas, including by providing information on local medical resources when appropriate.” The State Department’s current guidelines recommend that Americans overseas check whether they are eligible for a vaccine with local authorities.
Nikki Fox, spokesperson of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, said in an email that the State Department does not provide direct medical care to private citizens abroad.
These comments echo a recent response from the Australian Embassy. “The Australian Embassy won’t be involved in delivering vaccines to Australians in Thailand. Australians here “(Thailand) and in other countries around the world may be covered by the vaccine rollout program in their current location.”
U.S. private citizens in Thailand are taking a variety of approaches to protect themselves against COVID-19. While some are trying to ride out the current surge, others are planning to go wherever they can to get vaccinated. Some have traveled to cities in the U.S. for a free jab, and Thai travel agencies have even offered COVID-19 “vaccine tours.”
For some, returning to the U.S. is the last resort. This means paying thousands of dollars for plane tickets and a private hotel quarantine. As many Americans in Thailand are required to pay U.S. taxes, and can vote in U.S. elections, they ask why can’t they get vaccinated where they live?
The U.S. State Department delivered COVID-19 vaccines to all its eligible workforce stationed overseas in late April and expects its entire workforce to have been fully vaccinated by mid-May, according to Reuters. The program has not been extended to U.S. private citizens abroad.
Washington has been under pressure to share excess doses with other parts of the world. The Biden administration committed to sending 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to hard-hit countries beginning this month.
The Australian government has given Thailand 68 million baht to support Thailand’s vaccine program and to help Thailand vaccinate the country faster.