Both a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday, Natapanu Nopakun and the Head of the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, on Thursday, confirmed that expats and foreigners are to be vaccinated as part of the government’s plan to achieve herd immunity in Thailand by the end of 2021.
The government, on Thursday, again reassured foreigners and expats that they are included in the country’s vaccination drive which moves into its second phase in June and July despite confusion and contradictory reports in recent days.
One of Thailand’s top officials, on Thursday, made it clear that vaccines would be made available to foreigners as part of the government’s vaccine drive.
It follows confusion on Wednesday after a Reuters report quoted a source at the Ministry of Public Health who suggested that the government did not have ‘any plans’ to offer free vaccines to foreigners as part of its Phase Two vaccination process which is targeted at those over 60 and those of all ages with underlying health issues.
This report has now been contradicted.
It is understood that these vaccines will be administered to qualifying expats and foreigners in June and July and all are still advised to register for the programme as earlier reported and confirmed by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) over the weekend.
Expats over 60 and with underlying conditions can register for free Covid vaccinations in June & July
‘Anybody living in Thailand, whether they be Thai or foreign, if they want their vaccine, they can get it,’ said Dr Opas Karnkawinpong who is the Head of the Department of Disease Control on Thursday. ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe.’
Similar assurances by top officials and politicians since the end of last year after the second wave
The news follows a long history of assurances from senior officials since the end of last year and the second wave outbreak which originated among migrant workers from Myanmar that the vaccine drive would be universally available to those living in Thailand and free.
The government and the Ministry of Public Health are currently desperately engaged in Phase One of the vaccination process which is targeted at front line health workers, those who are vital to the country’s security including economic security in tourist areas and residents in areas hardest hit by local outbreaks such as the Klong Toey area of Bangkok.
Current Phase One campaign limited primarily to Sinovac vaccines delivered from China and reserved for those most at risk and front line personnel
It is understood the government is limited to the 3 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine that have, so far, been delivered and a small quantity of AstraZeneca delivered at the of February from South Korea.
Currently, just over 2% of the population are fully vaccinated.
The statement of Dr Opas comes after a similar assurance, on Wednesday, came from Natapanu Nopakun, a deputy spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who confirmed that a ‘massive vaccination plan’ would be rolled out from June as supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine come on stream from the recently approved Siam Bioscience plant in Pathum Thani.
‘All people residing in Thailand, regardless of nationality, are eligible to receive the vaccine under the plan,’ he assured the media briefing given on behalf of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Thailand trying to source another 40 million doses
It is understood Thailand is currently trying to source a further 40 million vaccine doses to meet a target of immunising 50 million people by the end of 2021 which would, according to experts, be sufficient to give the kingdom effective herd immunity.
5 to 10 million doses of these may come from the US firm Pfizer BioNtech who in recent days confirmed that it was in discussions with the Thai government through the Ministry of Public Health.
US firm in talks with the Ministry of Public Health
The US firm also made it clear that no agreement had yet been reached nor has the Pfizer BioNtech jab been approved by the Thai Food and Drug Administration for use in Thailand.
It did state, however, that its vaccine product would only be sold to the government or its agencies.
Currently, only the Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson one-off vaccine have been approved.
Confusion on Wednesday amid conflicting reports
The confusion, on Wednesday, came after foreigners complained that they were unable to register using the Mor Prom online application while others reported that hospitals they had approached were not aware of the programme.
On the other hand, one foreigner reported that he had registered to be vaccinated in Chiang Mai while several people in Ko Samui and Phuket reported they have already received two doses of the Sinovac jab free of charge.
Calls for patience as official confirms expats and foreigners are on the government’s list and agenda
At the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, however, on Wednesday, the spokesman, Mr Natapanu, called for calm and patience.
He assured the expat and foreign community that they were included in the government’s plans and that further details would be announced in due course and in time for Phase 2 which only commences in June and July and also later on for Phase 3, aimed at all adults from 18 to 60 years of age, from August.
Foreigners are still advised to contact their local hospital to make an appointment although some consideration is being given to deploying online facilities or modifying existing applications to cater for the foreign community in Thailand which includes migrant workers and a population of up to 3 million people.
Ministry of Public Health spokesman earlier said Thais would receive priority at this critical time
Ministry of Public Health spokesman, Rungrueng Kitphati, who was quoted by Reuters on Tuesday as saying there was, as yet, no clear policy regarding expats and foreigners being vaccinated as part of the government’s campaign, did suggest that this situation could change.
‘In the future, the country will provide more alternatives for vaccines so they could have a chance of getting it. Please don’t worry,’ he explained. ‘There will soon be a surplus of vaccines so it will not be difficult to get them.’
Earlier, the official was quoted by Reuters as saying that the priority right now was Thai frontline health workers and those who were most vulnerable: ‘The government wants to take care of everyone living here, it had no plans to give free vaccines to expats due to very limited vaccine stocks, so Thai people would be the first to get it.’
Country facing a severe crisis with government agencies dealing with over 1,500 hospitals and medical facilities with registration process just begun
The key thing for expats in Thailand to bear in mind is that there is currently a severe crisis in the country regarding the third wave of the virus while efforts are being made to secure enough vaccine doses to effectively supply a successful vaccine drive to achieve herd immunity.
Currently, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Prime Minister’s Office have taken powers from the Ministry of Public Health in relation to coordinating the vaccination drive quickly across upwards of 1,500 hospitals and medical facilities as well as private sector locations.
This will inevitably sometimes lead to confusion or, at the very least, delayed communication.
Still some question over whether there will be a charge for the vaccine although leading officials have consistently said it will be free, so far so good
There is also still a question over whether the vaccine will be free although, since the end of last year, this has been what has been suggested repeatedly by senior government officials who insist that the vaccine will be free to all residents in Thailand.
However, there may also be private-sector options coming on stream as the government, advised by key business leaders, is considering a proposal by commercial hospitals in Thailand to create a two-tier system for those who can afford it.
This course is by no means certain to be approved as it may complicate the overall vaccine drive.
Those foreigners who have already received the vaccine have not been charged while this is also the basis for those who have already successfully registered for Phase Two of the programme to begin in June and July.
At an earlier stage in the pandemic, it was suggested that expats or foreigners would pay for their own vaccines but this policy appeared to shift decisively after the second wave which showed clearly that the Covid-19 virus does not distinguish between Thai nationals or non-nationals.