AstraZeneca gamble by the government appeared to be paying off this week as the UK Swedish firm confirmed that the kingdom now has a sustainable supply of Covid-19 vaccines moving forward even as the government negotiates for a further 25 million doses from both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. It comes as, on Monday, nearly 310,000 people were vaccinated in what appears to be the beginning of the end of the virus crisis.
Thailand’s ramped up vaccine drive was launched on Monday, June 7th at a railway terminal on the outskirts of Bangkok by the Prime Minister, General Prayut and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul buoyed by the success of the country in producing its own supply of AstraZeneca doses. At the same time, a spokesman at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) daily briefing in Bangkok announced a special site for foreigners to register for the vaccine drive and take part.
As Thailand kicked off its upgraded vaccination programme on Monday driven by a sustainable supply of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine as well as larger orders of the Sinovac jab from China, there was also some good news for foreigners living in the kingdom.
It comes as the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul attended the launch of the critical second stage of the vaccine programme at Bang Sue Grand Station, a new railway and transport terminal on the outskirts of Bangkok as vaccines in large quantities were being distributed throughout the provinces.
Target of the second and third phases is to fully vaccinate 50 million people by the end of 2021
It marks the commencement of the second phase of the vaccine programme which aims to fully vaccinate 50 million people in Thailand by the end of 2021.
Up to now, in the first phase with limited supplies, the country’s vaccine effort had been limited to areas where public health officials were fighting infection outbreaks or to priority health staff and those who were most vulnerable.
The third phase commences in August targeting all adults in Thailand.
Diplomatic corps website deployed for expats but crashed quickly with excess demand
On Monday afternoon, a website designed for the diplomatic corps in Thailand was redeployed to cater for all foreign residents in the kingdom allowing them to register online for vaccines.
The site, thailandintervac.com, however, quickly experienced problems as it was overloaded by foreign residents seeking to take their place in the queue.
A message later appeared asking users to return after 5 pm.
‘Please be advised that the reservation system for the vaccination appointment is being updated. You cannot make a reservation for a certain amount of time. Please try registration after 5 pm. We have to apologize for all the inconvenience’
The site is currently online with just a placement message on the opening page but promises to open on Tuesday morning.
Details given at daily CCSA briefing
Details of the site were originally given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Natapanu Nopakun who was speaking at the daily briefing of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
The current phase of the vaccine programme is targeting people aged 60 years and above or those with underlying conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disorders.
The website currently online explains who is eligible and also gives a list of hospitals both in Bangkok and Pattaya.
Focus on areas to be reopened to foreign tourism
The government is understood to be focused, even at this early stage, on prioritising Bangkok and Pattaya as well as other areas that are vital to the reopening of the country to foreign travellers in areas, which, in 2019, accounted for 75% of foreign tourism revenue.
On Monday, the government indicated that a full reopening of Thailand is now being considered also for that date.
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These areas including Bangkok, Buri Ram, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Phang Nga, Phetchaburi, Phuket, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Surat Thani are expected to be welcoming visitors without restrictions by October 1st.
Foreign residents can register with their local hospitals, health centres or on various websites
The government is still advising foreign residents that they can try to register for the vaccine through their private or public hospital which maintains their medical records but has admitted some hospitals are currently not able to process such registrations.
Mr Natapanu stressed the problem is limited to certain hospitals within the system.
It is understood this situation will be rectified on a gradual basis as the vaccination campaign rolls out and gains momentum.
There are also several hospitals listed on the government website where foreigners can register for vaccination up to 2 weeks beforehand as well as registration sites throughout the provinces.
Each province has its own arrangements in place.
Chiang Mai vaccine website for expats
In Chiang Mai, this week, a top provincial official highlighted a new website in the northern city for foreigners where they can register for vaccination using their passport reference numbers.
‘In the near future, people will be able to select their preferred vaccines. As their vaccination date nears, a notification will be sent to each person via SMS or they will be informed by nearby hospitals and Village Health Volunteers (VHV),’ said the provincial permanent secretary.
In Chiang Mai, over 5.5% of the population have already received the first dose while 1.7% are fully vaccinated with over 20% of the population already registered to receive the vaccine.
AstraZeneca gamble now looks like it is paying off for the government as the first batch of 1.8 million doses are delivered for distribution at the outset of phase two
Meanwhile, the delivery over the last week of 1.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been a major boost for the government and in particular Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul who has been criticised for the strategy that placed so much emphasis on having a vaccine production facility in Thailand.
However, this may now be paying off. Nearly 310,000 people were vaccinated on Monday alone.
Over the weekend, an executive with UK Swedish firm AstraZeneca, Mr James Teague, highlighted the first delivery of AstraZeneca doses which he assured the public met stringent quality control guidelines having been tested in labs in Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
At the same time, the government is in discussion with both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to import 25 million doses although a Pfizer spokesman in the last 24 hours stressed that no deal had yet been agreed.
WHO representative in Thailand becomes the first foreigner to get the locally produced vaccine
On Saturday, the first person in Thailand to receive the local AstraZeneca vaccine was a Thai woman in Nonthaburi while, at the same location, Dr Daniel Kertesz of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Thailand, became the first foreigner to receive the jab when it was administered by Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health.
The breakthrough in long-running efforts to create a sustainable supply at the Pathum Thani plant operated by Thai firm Siam Bioscience was also heralded by a relieved Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin.
‘AstraZeneca is our great partner and helped us with the vaccine management plan,’ he said on Saturday. ‘Vaccination is the key to stopping the outbreak, to rehabilitating our economy and returning normal life to the people.’