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.
Yesterday (June 13), 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 Kiattiphum 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.
‘Give people the facts’
Youwanush Kongdan, the director of Namarak, a private 10-bed facility specialising in breast cancer treatment, took the problem to her Facebook page yesterday with some timely suggestions for the Public Health Ministry.
“I am making an appeal to the government that it should give people the facts and communicate with them in a straightforward manner,” she said.
“If you have sufficient vaccines, please say so. If you don’t have enough vaccines, you also should say so and tell people when the vaccines will come.
“People will accept that.
“This war (against the coronavirus outbreak) needs a clear policy and quick communications,” she added.
Namarak was one of the hospitals that signed up to the natonal drive that started last Monday to become an authorised vaccination centre, but was told on Saturday that no jab deliveries were available for the June 14-20 week.
Namarak posted a sarcastic remark on its Facebook page 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.”
Dr Youwanush also made an announcement on her Facebook page, saying “Sad news of the week. We’ve been forced to take a break.”
Yesterday morning, she was awoken up by a member of her hospital staff with unwelcome news: Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul relayed through a ministry official that he was not happy with the reference to “the public health minister” included in the Facebook posts. She described subsequent talks with Thares Krassanairawiwong, the director of the Health Service Support Department, as “amicable” - but he demanded that that reference to Mr Anutin be dropped from the annoucement.
Dr Youwanush later replaced “the public health minister” with “related state agencies.”
According to the vaccination campaign procedure, the ministry distributes vaccines to City Hall’s Health Department. The Health Department of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is then supposed to roll them out to hospitals in the capital by Saturday, in time for the following week.
During the Facebook Live session, Dr Youwanush defended her citation of the public health minister, saying he mapped out the policy himself and someone must be held accountable for delivery problems.
“The (public health) minister is the commander-in-chief who sets the policy,” she said. “Or is it the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration now?”
The post by Namarak Hospital prompted Anutin 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.”
Anutin 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 Anutin’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 Opas 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 Prayut held a special meeting of the CCSA on May 3 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.