Pragmatic assessment by the man tasked with fighting Covid-19 in Thailand as he emphasised the significance of the World Health Organisation in reopening global borders safely and under international law. The jury is still out on vaccine efficacy he says, questioning how long the doses will continue to work for human beings who are inoculated.

Department of Disease Control boss, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, did not rule out the possibility of vaccine passports up ahead but pointed out that the initiative is clearly one that should be undertaken under the auspices of the World Health Organisation under a 2005 international health protocol agreed by nearly all countries.

Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health Director-general, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, who on Monday explained that international vaccine passports were in the remit of the World Health Organisation under a binding 2005 law agreed to by 196 countries including Thailand.

As the clamour grows among business leaders, especially in the foreign tourism sector, to speed up vaccination efforts and allow entry to the kingdom to foreign tourists with Covid-19 vaccine passports, the Director-general of the Department of Disease Control, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong pushed back on Monday by insisting that the 14-day quarantine system remains, at this point, the most appropriate and only available option based on best practice.

The senior medical official revealed that the Ministry of Public Health had consulted with the World Health Organisation in Geneva on the issue.

Ministry of Public Health is reviewing the progress of vaccines worldwide and plans for a vaccine passport

Since the end of 2020, the Department of Disease Control has indicated that it was reviewing the efficacy of vaccines across the world and initiatives linked with such passports.

Indeed today, Dr Opas pointed out that vaccine passports already exist and are operated by the World Health Organisation in respect of Africa and South America for yellow fever. Travellers from countries in these regions have to obtain yellow books to cross frontiers.

Vaccine passports will happen suggests Dr Opas Karnkawinpong under a 2005 law linked with the WHO’s fight against international disease

He said he believed an international vaccine passports system would be introduced but emphasised that it would have to be an initiative for the World Health Organisation to oversee according to a 2005 protocol which is a binding regulation signed up to by 196 countries throughout the world including Thailand.

The objective of the regulation is to: ‘prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.’

While Dr Opas believed that such a development will come about in order to relaunch world travel, he pointed out, on Monday, that no country has yet moved forward with such an arrangement.

It has already been pointed out that Thailand already issues certificates of vaccine or prophylaxis under the 2005 protocol.

Dr Opas says we still have to see how vaccines work

The man, ultimately responsible in the kingdom for combating the disease, also poured cold water on hopes that have been raised by the apparent success of vaccine rollouts in the United States and the United Kingdom alluded to by Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University boss Dr Prasit Watanapa last week in an upbeat assessment.

Dr Opas was struck a more a cautious tone than Dr Prasit when he contended that no one was sure of the ultimate impact or effect of the vaccines now being used across the globe.

‘Although Thailand and other countries allow Covid-19 vaccines, no one actually knows at this point the answer to the key question as to whether these vaccines are 100% effective in Covid-19 prevention,’ he pointed out. ‘The reason is there still isn’t sufficient information to conclude that the chance is zero for travellers already vaccinated against Covid-19 to be able to spread the virus to others.’

Raised doubts about how long the jabs work

Dr Opas painted an even bleaker picture when he pointed out that there is also no evidence to suggest, at this point either, how long these vaccines are effective for.

‘It remains uncertain even for how long such Covid-19 shots will last and how many repeat shots will actually be needed.’

Industry leaders and tourism sector enterprises are putting pressure on the government to open up

Last week, a range of tourism bodies and even the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, appeared to be advocating the rollout of vaccines in foreign tourism hotspots to reopen the country to large numbers of incoming tourists as early as the third quarter of this year.

There was also a call from the influential Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking (JSCCIB) and its Chairman, Supant Mongkolsuthree, who wants to see vaccine passports issued to Thais who needed to travel.

Many business executives in the kingdom are concerned that the ongoing travel restrictions are hindering the development of the economy simply by preventing the pursuit of normal commercial interests in Asia and worldwide.

This was a point made in an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha by William Heinecke, the boss of the Minor Group on January 28th last.

Vaccines for foreign tourism workers in July

On a more positive note, the senior official did suggest that a vaccine would be made available to those involved in the foreign tourism industry sometime in July. 

He also suggested that if an international initiative linked with vaccine passports is launched, Thailand would look closely at the possibility of joining but would require satisfactory evidence that the vaccines are effective in preventing the spread of the infection in all cases.

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