From Shielding the Borders to Forging the Best Shield: Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout in Thailand

The urgency of the situation leaves us no time to wait for the “perfect” vaccine. In fact, all authorized vaccines work, and they are effective enough to help bring an end to the pandemic.

Covid-19 is by far the deadliest international disaster this century. The pandemic has affected the health and livelihood of the vast majority of the world’s population. It has also resulted in massive economic losses on a scale rarely seen before. Thailand was the first country outside China to confirm a new coronavirus case. Nevertheless, the country met the challenge and succeeded in maintaining single-digit or zero infections in Thailand, to the extent that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Grebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), urged “all countries to follow Thailand.”

The world viewed Thailand’s early Covid-19 success as an inspiring underdog story because it seemed ridiculous that a developing country with domestic unrest could manage the crisis better than developed and technologically more advanced countries.

However, there is no triumph without loss. An entry ban was one of the infection control policies introduced to tackle the spread of Covid-19. As a tourist-reliant economy, travel restrictions have led to distressing economic and social costs throughout the long duration of this pandemic.

Closing the borders is a heavy price to pay for controlling local transmissions. That being so, Thailand has attempted to utilize a “Covid-Proof” shield for the benefit of its people, before later reviving the country through reopening its borders and other economic measures. A vaccine is regarded as the best shield against Covid-19 infections. However, Thailand’s national inoculation campaign has been controversial; many believe that Thailand’s quest to provide national immunity has been too slow. People are worried about the two million doses that Thailand has secured from Sinovac Biotech.

There are also questions over the suitability of Siam Bioscience as the local producer of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Concerns have arisen over how AstraZeneca/Siam Bioscience seemingly came to dominate Thailand’s inoculation campaign. Thailand’s reluctance to join the WHO-led Covax due to its strict conditions, has caused frustration as well. The controversies are never-ending. Although government agencies have accepted their accountability by addressing every concern, the explanations don’t necessarily earn public empathy for the organizations involved.

The path to recovery in the country through widespread vaccination efforts is hampered by constraints. The urgent need to change how this pandemic affects the world, unavoidably leads to “faster but riskier” use of vaccines. Even though the principles of quality, safety, and efficacy are maintained, all the vaccine players received their approval on an emergency basis. Authorization for emergency use means that all the normal rigorous assessments are shortened, as the world has to balance the benefits received from emergency-authorized vaccines, and potential risks associated with them.

Hence, to hope for the best vaccine without controversy is impossible as the players in the Covid-19 vaccine race face a battle of confidence amid the controversies. Some may be challenged with a lower-than-expected efficacy rate. Many players experience problems with the side effects of a vaccine. Therefore, there have been many priorities that the Thai government has had to balance before the selection of “appropriate” vaccines based on them being contextually doable as one of the most significant characteristics.

The urgency of the situation leaves us no time to wait for the “perfect” vaccine. Although the world has tended to judge the level of “perfection” of each Covid-19 vaccine based on its efficacy rating, being the numbers derived from different clinical studies and in various settings. In fact, all authorized vaccines work, and they are effective enough to help bring an end to the pandemic.

A ’Wait and See’ approach to the Covid-19 vaccine would mean the longer we were not protected. Hoping for a clear-cut answer before getting a shot may lead to disappointment because many answers may be equally valid in this complex situation, as there is logic behind each solution. While the Thai government plays a central role in risk reduction, we are also responsible on our own part, as further damage to society can primarily be reduced by mass vaccinations.

Receiving the Covid-19 vaccine is not only about getting vaccinated. Accepting inoculation is everyone’s business because we all want the situation to get better. Everything in the country is hyper-connected, be it economic recession, national poverty, employment issues, social disruption, education crises, while only a vaccine can change the world’s relationship with Covid-19. Although a Covid-19 vaccine is not a silver bullet or a reset button where we can travel back to pre-pandemic times, the vaccine is the one medical tool that can end the agonizing uncertainty that we have faced every day for the past year. (NNT)