Top virologist urges Thais to embrace vaccines as the road back to normal with first doses flying in
Most Thai people are adamant that foreigners must be vaccinated while a combined 57.44% think it should be free to expats who pay taxes in Thailand or even all non-Thais. Startlingly, only 0.48% thought the country’s politicians should be given priority while 40.48% agreed first place in the queue should be given to staff working in the kingdom’s health sector.
Top Thai doctor, Dr Yong Poovorawan, an expert on virology, on Monday, urged a quicker roll out and take up of vaccines across Thailand as the way out of the Covid-19 emergency. It comes as Thai Airways prepares to fly in the first consignment of vaccines from Beijing on Wednesday and confirmation from the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, that he will be the first in the kingdom to roll up sleeves and take the jab to bring the country back to normality.
Thailand is due to go from virus containment mode into vaccination mode on Wednesday when 200,000 doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine arrive on a specially chartered Thai Airways flight from Beijing.
It follows official confirmation of the delivery of the first batch of 2 million doses of the inactivated vaccine, which uses a safer and trusted technology but is less effective than the advanced mRNA vaccines utilised by the United States and Israel in their successful vaccine rollouts.
The AstraZeneca jab, a vector vaccine, is currently planned to be used as the mainstay of Thailand’s vaccination campaign from June.
The news confirming the doses were on the way came with a photo published on social media by the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul showing packaged orange and white boxes.
PM confirmed on Monday he will be first in line at the airport for the Chinese Sinovac vaccine
Waiting for the vaccines to fly in on Wednesday will be none other than Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, who confirmed, on Monday, he will be the first Thai person to be inoculated with the Chinese jab sent by the Beijing based firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
‘I am ready for vaccination,’ he announced as the government plans to prioritise health workers and those charged with the nation’s health and economic security first. People in provinces most at risk, at this time, such as Samut Sakhon and Pathum Thani, will also get preference.
Sinovac shipped and used worldwide even to poorer African states but it’s far from free for Thailand
The Chinese vaccine has now been used extensively in Turkey, Brazil and Indonesia and the communist country has, in the last week, been shipping it around the world to countries in need using it as a geopolitical propaganda tool.
However, Thailand is paying top dollar for the Chinese product in a deal approved by the cabinet in January at a cost of ฿650 or $21.67 per dose or ฿1.3 billion for delivery of the full consignment between now and the end of April which will amount to 2 million in all.
The company behind the product and trials in China claims it is 78% effective with a higher figure being reported in Turkey and an outlying result in Brazil of just above 50% related to a trial in a challenging medical environment.
430% more expensive than AstraZeneca
Sinovac is 430% more expensive than the 26 million doses purchased by the government from AstraZeneca priced at ฿150 per dose.
That vaccine has also been the subject of scrutiny as to its effectiveness rate and was suspended last week in South Africa because of the mutation of the virus there.
Despite this, top medical doctors in Thailand are behind government efforts to roll out its vaccination programme as a matter of urgency and are encouraging the public to see this as the ultimate way out of the crisis.
Thailand’s top doctors want the government to buy more vaccines wherever they can be found
Some weeks ago, Dr Prasit Watanapa of the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University highlighted the progress being made in the United States, United Kingdom and Israel in reducing infection rates linked with the progress in inoculation of the population in those countries.
On Monday, Dr Yong Poovorawan, perhaps the kingdom’s top expert on the Covid-19 virus, encouraged the government to take vaccines wherever they can be found and to firmly focus on getting the population vaccinated.
All vaccines have been proven to be safe despite media scare stories of deaths in some countries
Dr Yong pointed to the safety of the vaccines since they were first used on the public, worldwide, in early December with over 200 million people already having received them.
Government officials in Thailand, in association with medical experts, have been closely monitoring developments in other countries.
On Monday, Dr Yong referred to scare stories in the media suggesting over 130 people, predominantly the very aged and with underlying conditions, had died of severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis particularly to the newly engineered but more effective Pfizer Biotech and Moderna mRNA vaccines, the latter which Israel, this weekend, confirmed as being over 95% effective.
Sinovac is particularly safe says Dr Yong
‘Inactivated vaccines, such as Sinovac, that will be used in Thailand should have even less chance of causing side effects including anaphylaxis,’ said Dr Yong on Monday in a now regular social media briefing on Facebook. ‘Those who are afraid of the side effects of Covid-19 vaccines can rest assured, as the vaccines which Thailand will use have the lowest chance of undesirable side effects.’
The doctor pointed out that autopsies on the elderly who had died after receiving the mRNA vaccines in countries such as Norway showed they had, in fact, succumbed due to chronic underlying conditions.
Public health hawk was on social media the day the virus emergency decree was extended again
Dr Yong, who is hawkish in his stance on public safety, made his remarks on the same day as the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) announced an extension of the country’s emergency decree in connection with the Covid-19 virus.
This allows the government’s use of sweeping legal powers to impose limits on assembly but also to coordinate across official agencies allowing the current state quarantine system to operate in respect of the small trickle of incoming foreigners while blocking unhindered access to normal commercial air traffic to the kingdom.
The order was expected to be confirmed on Tuesday by the cabinet.
Officials under fire from the opposition over the slow rollout of the country’s vaccination campaign
This followed a censure motion against the government last week when it came under heavy fire from the opposition in parliament over what it claimed was its tardy vaccination campaign response.
Thailand lags behind Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia as well as Laos, Cambodia and even Myanmar in commencing its vaccination programme.
Responding to the claims, the Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, pointed to the low incidence of infection in the kingdom and minimal death toll.
Time to switch to vaccination as the priority
However, top medics such as Dr Yong are now calling for a switch to vaccination as the priority with a promise that it will bring the crisis to an end.
‘As many Thais as possible should get vaccinated to create a strong immunity, which would help return the outbreak situation to normal as soon as possible,’ said Dr Yong on Monday.
Public in Thailand have very definite ideas on who should be vaccinated, where and who should pay
On Sunday, an opinion poll showed the public in Thailand have very definite thoughts on who should get the shots first and who should be last. The last question was met with a decisive answer.
Politicians should be at the bottom of the ladder instead of the top with only 0.48% of respondents voting for them. This is compared to 40.48% for medical workers who topped the poll and 14.41% for manual workers.
The survey, with a sample of over 1,300, was conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in mid-February and showed only 8.81% of people thought tourism workers should be given priority to kickstart the country’s devastated foreign tourism industry.
Foreigners should be forced to get the jab
The same poll produced a significant 44.54% who said foreigners should be forced to take the jab while only 28.22% said it should be voluntary.
Asked about who should pay, the answer was that 39.92% thought all foreigners should while 31.72% said foreigners who paid taxes in Thailand should be given the doses free and a further 25.72% generously said all foreigners should get the vaccine for free.
The survey showed 38.01% thought working-age people of 25 to 49 years old should be prioritised for economic reasons while 37.1% suggested the elderly because of the higher threat level to them. Nearly 57% of people thought provinces at risk should be given priority in the campaign rollout.