Sitting on tens of millions of surplus coronavirus vaccines, the West is taking small steps toward balancing the scales, donating millions of jabs to Thailand.
A bit more than 1.5 million doses of Pfizer Inc. vaccine arrived in Thailand from the United States at 4 a.m. this morning. But a stray comment about possible future donations from a U.S. senator sent Thailand’s interwebs on fire Thursday, a sign of how desperate Thailand is for vaccines.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois – who is half Thai – said in an online forum that “the goal is 2.5 million” but made no actual commitment of more vaccine or any sort of timetable. Nonetheless, online scandal rags glammed onto the comment, reporting it as a hard fact that more vaccines were already coming. Even the U.S. embassy in Bangkok and the Thai Foreign Ministry tweeted it as a certainty. It’s not. And, even if it is, the extra 1 million jabs aren’t arriving anytime soon.
“We are working hard on getting more vaccines for Thailand,” Michael Heath, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok said in an interview published today. “The U.S. is committed to donating additional doses to nations in need as supply becomes available.
“I am not able to speculate on procurement, since those deals are made between the Thai government and private pharmaceutical companies,” he added. “In sharing Covid-19 vaccine doses, the U.S. seeks to maximize and equitably share the number of vaccine doses available with the greatest number of countries.”
The furor overshadowed the more-credible news that the United Kingdom reached into its large sack of surplus vaccine doses and pulled out a handful – 415,000 handfuls to be exact – for Thailand.
The AstraZeneca Plc. doses, enough to fully inoculate only 207,500 people, will arrive in August.
Meanwhile, the Swiss government donated 100 ventilators, more than 1 million rapid antigen test kits and other medical supplies. The 26 tons of donations arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport Thursday morning.
Of all the donations, the U.S. shipment of the Pfizer mRNA vaccines are the most-anticipated, given the growing objections to the government’s reliance on less-effective Chinese vaccines.
Rumors have been rife that the highly sought jabs will go to Thailand’s rich, politicians, police and celebrities, assertions the Public Health Ministry has failed to debunk.
The U.S. embassy is planning a news conference for today where Thai officials are expected to confirm that 645,000 of the 1.5 million doses will be given to the elderly, women at least 12 weeks pregnant, and the chronically ill.
“We would like to see those vaccines distributed to those who are most at-risk within countries, particularly healthcare workers on the front lines, the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions,” Charge d’affaires Heath said. “I am happy to see that Thai health officials share these priorities.”
Another 150,000 doses will be given to foreign residents who meet the same criteria while 40,000 will be used to study the vaccine’s efficacy against new variants. Five doses will be reserved for further research as Thailand is trying its hand at mRNA vaccines.
Thailand continues to move pathetically slowly in vaccinating the public, taking time off on holidays and weekends – four days this week – when people are not working and available to get shots. To date, only 5.6 percent of the public has been fully vaccinated.