Thai health workers fear ‘VVIPs’ diverting US-donated Pfizer vaccines

Photos: Nurse Connect, the International Federation of Medical Students Association
Photos: Nurse Connect, the International Federation of Medical Students Association

Dozens gathered at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok this morning to ask for details about the distribution of 1.54 million donated Pfizer vaccines amid fear they will be funneled away from those most in need.

Several medical professionals delivered a petition at about 10:30am to the embassy on Wireless Road. Addressed to Charge d’Affaires Michael Heath, it asked the embassy to help probe the issue and clarify how many vaccines will be distributed to which groups after Thai officials cut the allotment for medical workers without explanation.

What we haven’t seen yet are official documents or a clear number of how many medics will get the vaccines,” Nut Siriratboonkajorn, medic and group spokesperson, said. “Therefore, I would like to have more clarity on this part, so that no personnel on the front line is left behind.”

The group – consisting of medical workers from Nurses Connect, Doctors For Transparency, the Public Health Association and others – became alarmed after the number of vaccines destined for health workers was reduced from 700,000 doses to 500,000 doses without explanation.

After a drawn-out donation process, the embassy announced last week that it had worked out the details and would sooner deliver the 1.54 million doses, though it did not specify how they would be distributed. 

Calls to an embassy spokesperson went unanswered Tuesday afternoon.

Thailand’s Health Ministry initially said 700,000 were earmarked for those in medicine. In subsequent communication, the ministry has reduced that to 500,000 without explanation, leading some to suspect interference by the endemically corrupt, military-backed government.

Just last week, public outrage was ignited by a leaked document showing one military agency had attempted to secure much-wanted Modern vaccines for soldiers through back channels.

Someone with knowledge of the donation campaign who wasn’t authorized to discuss it described it as a “legendary saga.” Nonetheless, they said Tuesday afternoon that the U.S. government placed “no strings” on the donation beyond an assurance no one would profit from it. Otherwise, the Thai government is free to use them as it sees best, they said, noting that the donation technically consists of an agreement between Pfizer and Thailand.

Raising concern that the world’s most effective mRNA vaccines could be channeled to VVIPs instead of the medical community were given a shot in the arm two weeks ago by the announcement that frontliners would receive AstraZeneca as a third-dose booster instead.

“We’re concerned that the Pfizer vaccines won’t be sufficient for every medical worker,” the group wrote in a statement. “Some hospitals even announced that they wouldn’t be responsible if their staff who insist on [waiting for] Pfizer get infected with COVID-19.”

The group also made four demands of the Health Ministry including providing mRNA vaccines to every Thai, disclosing more information such as how many medics have received AstraZeneca booster shots and accounting those responsible for the vaccine rollout and corruption. 

The International Federation of Medical Students Association has also joined in, launching a campaign called Thailand Vaccine Watch.

“Did any VVIPs cut the line ahead of us? Or did the vaccines disappear mysteriously?” the group wrote on social media, where it posted a form for anyone to report vaccine corruption.

The vaccines are expected to be handed over Friday for inoculations to start next month. The U.S. government is donating 80 million vaccine doses to other countries, including about two dozen in Asia. 

Photo: The International Federation of Medical Students Association / Facebook
Photo: The International Federation of Medical Students Association / Facebook

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CITY: BANGKOKCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: HEALTH, POLITICS

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