The national vaccination rollout has hit turbulence after several public and private hospitals announced their decision to postpone inoculations amid a shortage of the COVID-19 vaccine.
When pressed about the shortage, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul passed the buck to City Hall, who in turn blamed the government by saying it had received insufficient supplies to meet vaccination targets.
On Sunday, the permanent secretary for public health Kiattiphum Wongrachit admitted that Thailand has so far received far less COVID-19 vaccine than it had expected this month.
The shortfall has led to a major adjustment of the country’s mass vaccination programmes for July and September, Dr Wongrachit said.
Several public and private hospitals across the capital, as well as a number of hospitals in the provinces, have postponed vaccination appointments scheduled for this week, saying they have not received enough vaccines from the Public Health Ministry.
Most of the postponed vaccination appointments were made by senior citizens and people with underlying medical conditions through the Mor Prom (“Doctor Ready”) app.
Namarak Hospital even posted a sarcastic remark on its social media channel, saying: “If you have any questions about this postponement, please contact our call centre or contact the public health minister directly and ask why this lack of readiness has occurred.”
The post prompted Mr Charnvirakul to give an interview on Channel 3, in which he blamed the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
The minister said the Public Health Ministry had agreed to supply the BMA with one million doses of the vaccine and in less than two weeks 500,000 doses had already been delivered.
“So it cannot be said that they haven’t received the vaccine from the ministry, and saying so only shows a lack of responsibility,” he said. “The BMA’s health and medical departments should have tried their very best in managing the given vaccine supplies as they now have full control of everything there.”
Mr Charnvirakul said his ministry was quick to have all 500,000 doses of the vaccine delivered to the BMA although it had initially planned to send only 250,000 doses initially, and the rest later.
“Please don’t say the ministry isn’t doing anything because it already has distributed all vaccine supplies received from the suppliers to eligible parties as instructed by the CCSA and on time,” he said.
Soon after Mr Charnvirakul’s interview, the BMA’s public relations office posted a statement on its Facebook page saying that the ministry failed to supply vaccines to the BMA as planned.
It said the BMA was notified by the ministry that 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be provided, so the BMA planned its mass vaccination programme accordingly.
So far the BMA has received only 350,000 vaccine doses, in addition to the 150,000 Sinovac jabs it has to cover injections from last Monday until today.
Of these received doses, 181,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been redistributed to hospitals in Bangkok handling vaccination appointments. The BMA only supplies the jabs given by the ministry to these hospitals for the vaccination programme, where up to 450,000 people have already booked their vaccination appointments.
Out of the total supply of 6.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines expected to be delivered this month, Bangkok was promised to get 1.16 million doses, while the other 76 provinces will receive 3.22 million doses, said Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control.
Provinces with a less serious outbreak situation may be able to delay their vaccination programmes, Dr Karnkawinpong said.
The Rural Doctors Society pointed out Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as head of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), was to blame for the “vaccine chaos” in Bangkok. It said the CCSA resolved to give 1 million jabs for Bangkok in June and about 500,000 doses had been allocated last week.
Gen Chan-o-cha held a special meeting of the CCSA on 3rd May which resolved to set up a COVID-19 centre for Bangkok and surrounding provinces. No cabinet ministers, not even the public health minister, were appointed to the centre, the network said.