In San Francisco, at some Bay Area McDonald’s, people can walk in for a free COVID-19 vaccination and a free meal. At Walgreens, get a 25-dollar cash coupon with your COVID-19 vaccine.
In Thailand, what in the name of Phra Siam Devadhiraj is going on?
On 22 June, famed TV journalist Sorayudth Sutadsanajinda posted the question, “Where is Moderna?”
The next day, Health Minister Anutin Charvirakul replied that the ministry’s job is only to facilitate, not to buy. He explained that everything is in process, asked people not to complain, and for now, there’s Sinovac.
The Health Minister also said asking such a question is like “rowing a boat in a bathtub,” which means, it leads to nowhere.
Dr. Withoon Danwiboon, managing director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), responded that the GPO is in negotiations with the maker of Moderna.
“We are in the process of drafting a contract that’s in line with Thai and international laws… which is almost done,” he said.
“Then, the draft contract will be sent to the High Prosecutor.”
“The contract is expected to be signed in early August.”
“Vaccine rollout is expected by the fourth quarter [of this year].”
In the meantime, Doctor Witoon said there are issues to hammer out, such as pricing, taxing, and correct allotments, etc. Private hospitals are reminded to submit the proper documents and follow the proper bureaucratic procedures. All the details will be discussed in a board meeting scheduled for the end of the month.
But wait. Aren’t we in an emergency situation? Isn’t there an Emergency Decree to hurdle bureaucratic red tapes? Doesn’t General Prayut Chan-o-cha hold near-absolute power?
Back on 20 April, Thaksin Shinawatra said in a Clubhouse episode that he can ring up Vladimir Putin and ask for Sputnik V. Not to be outdone by Tony Woodsome From Dubai, on the next day General Prayut (aka, Todd Troublesome From Bangkok) said the government had already negotiated with the Russian premier for vaccines.
As well, negotiations for Pfizer and others have been in the making for months.
But still, we are one week away from July, the second half of 2021, and the only vaccines we have are ever more Sinovac and AstraZeneca (the bulk of which from Japan, not Siam Bioscience).
There are a number of reasons why Thailand is slow to receive vaccines, one of which is the same reason we face routinely living in Thailand. Back to Doctor Witoon’s explanation: It’s all about bureaucratic red tapes.
Mountains of paperwork. Oceans of procedures. Meetings upon meetings. Approvals by an array of Poo-yai. As we explained in our 18 June article, “Why we cheat: the unbearable lightness of being Thai.” The kingdom is run by the feudal-era-style bureaucracy designed to make things as difficult as possible, so we either sit and wait, or we cheat to get things done.