‘Shitshow’: Sunday’s surprise expat vaccination was a mess – but successful

Jab Me Up: Sunday’s crowd at SCG headquarters in Bangkok’s Bang Sue district waits to receive a free dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine courtesy of the Thai government.
Jab Me Up: Sunday’s crowd at SCG headquarters in Bangkok’s Bang Sue district waits to receive a free dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine courtesy of the Thai government.

Sunday’s exclusive vaccination party for hundreds of foreign nationals in a northern Bangkok parking lot, where those fortunate enough to register received a dose of AstraZeneca, was likely a “one-off” event.

More than a thousand Americans, Indians, Aussies, Kiwis and others queued three to four hours in what looked like a loading area at SCG headquarters in the Bang Sue district for hastily arranged jabs, a hastily arranged event one insider said there were no plans to repeat.

However abruptly organized – there was little notice and only hours to register – the event got shots into many arms.

“This weekend, the Thai Board of Trade was able to secure a limited number of vaccines which will be provided for members of foreign chambers of commerce and private organisations,” top foreign affairs spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said today in a statement. “A small portion of these vaccines became available on Friday afternoon as some foreign chambers could not confirm the final lists of those to be vaccinated. As a result, the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] started to reach out to foreign missions to enquire whether they had any priority cases who should be vaccinated, but given the time constraint, only some could be reached and accommodated.”

The event itself, according to five people who attended, was as chaotic and poorly organized as its inception. Attendees reported arriving to find no posted instructions and waits of over four hours. They  queued in arranged chairs that were repeatedly reorganized in no logical way, which occasionally put later arrivals ahead of others who had been there longer.

There were no signs telling people where to line up and few staff present to manage the crowd. QR codes were posted – but no indication given in English to use them. A woman told attendees over a bullhorn that they’d get an SMS notification for their second dose “maybe three months from now.”

One attendee who wished not to be named for fear of reprisal said they could not “blame anyone though, as this was obviously hastily organized, and we were just like lucky jackpot contestants who had won the lottery.

Thailand offers vaccines to Americans, Aussies, Austrians, Kiwis. (But you’ve already missed out.)

Still, most were clearly grateful for the opportunity, given Thailand’s frustratingly slow rollout and marginalization of foreign nationals.

“In general, I’m ecstatic about getting the vaccine,” said 65-year-old Randy Oda of Hawaii. “Although the process was a bit confusing, most were excited and perhaps a bit anxious to have this special opportunity.”

While the Austrians said they were afforded 100 doses, most embassies declined to state their allocation.

A reporter on the scene said he felt relief upon receiving his confirmation Saturday after months of frustration and anger.

The medical workers were great, but nerves were high, and there were a ton of people in the crowd,” said Craig Sauers, managing editor of Coconuts sister magazine BK and a U.S. national. “Before the needle went in my arm … I felt guilty that I was getting my shot before those who need it more than I do. But then I realized that there was no clear path to getting a vaccine if I didn’t capitalize on the opportunity I was given.”

‘Shitshow’

If the blink-and-you-missed-it registration that took place between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon appeared poorly executed – that’s because it was, according to sources close to the matter.

In a drip, drip of announcements largely disseminated over social media, a number of embassies between Friday evening and Saturday morning announced limited signups on a first-come, first-served basis, that had to be completed by Saturday afternoon.

Characterizing it as a “shitshow,” one source who was not authorized to speak to the media said the event was “completely mismanaged.”

Though the Australians seemed to be clued in the earliest and got word out to their citizens first, most embassies were not notified of the opportunity until after business hours on Friday evening. The offer was initially not made through official channels, and no strings were attached – no money changed hands.

Another source said that there were no further plans at this time to hold a repeat event, noting that walk-in registration for all foreigners over 75 was available starting today, Monday.

“All foreigners residing in Thailand aged 75 and over can register by walk-in process at … the Bangsue Grand Station” from 9am to 4pm, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced. Eligible foreigners must bring their passport, proof of residence (visa, permanent resident card or work permit) to gates 2, 3 or 4.

Tanee, the ministry spokesperson, said that an online registration platform for “expatriates wishing to be vaccinated” would come online by the end of the month.

Additional reporting Chayanit Itthipongmaetee

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CITY: BANGKOKCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: HEALTH, POLITICS

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