US diplomat promises further aid for Thailand as it struggles to fight off the vicious Delta variant of COVID-19 and ramp up its vaccination drive, currently running far behind many of its ASEAN neighbours including countries such as Cambodia.
Expats in Thailand are to receive 150,000 doses of the consignment of Pfizer vaccines delivered by the United States last Friday as the Thai government, on Sunday, launched a new website for foreigners living here to register for the country’s ongoing vaccination programme. It comes as the US Charge d’Affaires to Thailand, Michael Heath, has confirmed that Washington will be sending at least another 1 million doses to Thailand as well as further aid to assist the government in tackling the current challenging situation.
On Saturday evening last, Mr Tanee Sangrat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a new site for vaccination registration for foreigners would go live from Sunday, August 1st.
A meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Sunday confirmed that 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine which was delivered to Thailand by the United States on Friday, July 30th last at 4 am will be reserved for foreigners in the kingdom particularly those who are elderly, pregnant women or those with one of seven chronic underlying conditions.
Second site for expats after first fell by the wayside over glitches and a shortage of vaccines
This is the second registration site for expats in Thailand to register to be vaccinated and after launching on Sunday, it has, like its predecessor, been experiencing some teething difficulties.
The site is designed to cater for foreign residents including a broad spectrum of expats from those with non-immigrant visas to members of the diplomatic corps, foreign residents under the Ministry of Labour’s Memorandum of Understanding system for migrant workers and the broader spectrum of registered migrant workers.
The new site, ExpatVac, replaced another site ThailandIntervac which was taken down weeks ago after experiencing difficulties and following a severe shortage of COVID-19 vaccines.
The new site is simply for registering for a public health vaccine which is available to foreigners as part of the national programme for free and at present comprises a mixed double dose of the Sinovac and the AstraZeneca vaccine.
On Saturday, Mr Tanee said that this site is ‘for expats of all ages in all provinces who still have not been vaccinated to date.’
Thai government committed to including foreigners and expats in its public health vaccine programme
The government and senior officials such as Dr Opas Karnkawinpong of the Department of Disease Control have repeatedly insisted that foreigners in Thailand are part of the vaccine programme and indeed many foreigners in various provinces are continually being vaccinated by pursuing options through well-known hospitals in Bangkok and with local authorities.
In early May, Dr Opas put the policy to the press succinctly: ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe.’
Problems reported this week with the new site for users trying to register on smartphone devices
On Monday, there were reports of problems with the new website throughout the day with users reporting difficulty in having their email IDs accepted.
This was linked by some online commentators to issues between the new government site and mobile or smartphone devices while many reported success using desktop and laptop devices using Windows 10 and standard browsers.
The site has already, according to officials, successfully registered over 29 thousand expats.
Thailand way behind Cambodia on vaccinations
Thailand’s vaccine rollout is remarkably slow with figures up to July 25th showing only 17.7% of the population have had one dose while only 5.2% are fully vaccinated.
This compares poorly to other countries in Southeast Asia.
For instance, Thailand’s neighbour with a less developed economy already has 29.4% of the population fully vaccinated and 44.8% with one dose as of Monday according to its public health service.
Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, has promised that this will change from this month and says at least 10 million doses per month will be available from now until the end of 2021.
Top US diplomat spoke to the press after the Pfizer consignment was shipped in last Friday by DHL
On Friday, the US Charge d’Affaires to Thailand, Michael Heath, spoke to the media after the consignment decked with the stars and stripes, the emblems of the US Embassy and the Pfizer Corporation came off the DHL flight which delivered the valuable consignment into Bangkok at 4 am.
Thailand is currently awaiting the appointment and confirmation of a new ambassador after Michael DeSombre, the first political appointment to the position made by former US President Donald Trump, resigned when President Biden took the oath of office in January.
Further 1 million doses are on the way
He confirmed reports last week and a commitment given by US Senator Tammy Duckworth that a further 1 million vaccines would be sent from the US to Thailand but Mr Heath could neither give a timeline nor an indication as to which brand of vaccine this will be.
‘I don’t have a clear timeline right now. And I don’t even know what brand of vaccine it will be,’ he said when asked at the airport. ‘Currently, we are continuing our efforts to provide the COVID-19 vaccine for Thailand and all countries in Southeast Asia. But I don’t have a definite date yet or any further confirmation.’
Free vaccines from the US come with ‘no strings attached’ or reciprocal obligations says Mr Heath
Mr Heath, however, reiterated the message made clear by US President Biden in June when he promised that the US donation of 500 million vaccines to countries around the world came with ‘no strings attached’ as a purely humanitarian gesture.
‘Our vaccines are unconditionally free. It has only one objective: to save lives and with the realization that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Therefore, we are pleased to know that The Thai government is committed to distributing these vaccines fairly to all residents of Thailand including focusing on allocating vaccines to the most at-risk groups,’ said Mr Heath.
Long-standing ties between Thailand and the United States means America will assist the kingdom further to fight the current challenge of the Delta variant
Mr Heath pointed to long-standing ties between Thailand and the United States going back 60 years on public health issues with Bangkok being home to the largest US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) facility outside the United States.
The US and Thailand have worked together on public health emergencies including Aids and Mr Heath said this week that many lives in Thailand had been saved through those medical efforts and initiatives.
The US diplomat said his country was acutely aware of Thailand’s deteriorating situation as the Delta variant is spreading throughout the population.
This meant that the US effort to assist its ally in Southeast Asia will be stepped up and this could lead to further aid or assistance.