The move follows Chalong Mayor Samran Jindapon earlier this week confirming to The Phuket News that foreigners living in Chalong will be freely vaccinated for COVID-19 once the national government has approved which vaccines may be used in Thailand.
Mayor Samran explained on Monday (Jan 18) that Chalong Municipality had already set aside a budget of B20 million to source a vaccine once they become available.
Chalong Municipality, like any other municipality in the country, must acquire any COVID-19 vaccine from the Ministry of Public Health, Mayor Samran admitted.
However, he added that he wanted there to be no bureaucratic delays in getting the vaccines to people living in Chalong.
“People in Chalong getting fast access to good-quality vaccines is the main idea, so we have already set a budget of about B20mn,” Mayor Samran said.
“Now we are waiting for the Ministry of Public Health to confirm and announce a safe vaccine for people,” he said.
Dr Thanit Sermkaew, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Public Health Office (PPHO), confirmed to The Phuket News on Tuesday (Jan 19) that at this stage his office had yet to receive any clear instructions from the central government on how many doses of a COVID vaccine will be made available to Phuket, or in which order of priority people on the island are to be vaccinated.
“That all depends on when health experts in Bangkok deem which vaccinations are safe to deploy throughout the country,” Dr Thanit said.
“When that decision is made, we will be informed how many doses of the vaccine will be allocated to Phuket, and how the vaccine should be distributed,” he added.
Chalong Mayor Samran made his policy decision clear, despite going to the polls for re-election on Mar 28.
“I don’t want to wait in the queue to get the vaccine budget. Chalong people deserve to receive vaccines. They do not need to pay,” he said.
Mayor Samran confirmed that COVID vaccines obtained by Chalong Municipality will be freely available to all people registered as living in Chalong Subdistrict, regardless whether the resident is Thai or foreign.
“There are about 20,000 to 30,000 people in Chalong. This includes everyone: Thais, migrant workers and other foreigners registered as living in Chalong, such as retirees and foreigners staying here for other reasons.
“They will all receive the vaccine,” Mayor Samran said.
“Please do not be worried. Chalong Municipality already has the money in its budget. There is no need to ask for money from the Cabinet,” Mayor Samran explained.
“We will start the buying process immediately after the Ministry of Public Health approves the vaccine,” he said.
Phuket City Mayor Somjai Suwansupana has also confirmed that Phuket City Municipality has already set aside more than B45 million to vaccinate the 79,000-odd people living in Phuket Town.
"We don’t want to wait for the government. If we wait for the government, we have no idea when we will have the vaccine,” she told The Phuket News.
Mayor Somjai confirmed that only people who were registered as living in Phuket City limits at the end of December would be eligible to receive the vaccine free from Phuket City Municipality.
“This does include Thais and foreigners registered as living in Phuket Town,” she said.
Chalermluck Kebsup, Mayor of Patong, is also not waiting for the central government to start drawing up plans to provide free vaccinations to residents in the once-bustling tourism town.
Mayor Chlermluck sees free mass vaccination, of both Thais and foreigners registered as living in Patong, as a key step in reviving Patong’s tourism industry, which has been devastated by the COVID-19 protection policies.
“The vaccine is being considered for approval right now, so we decided to take this chance. There is no need to wait for the government. We have already set a budget of about B30mn for about 20,000 people registered as living in Patong,” Mayor Chalermluck told The Phuket News on Monday (Jan 18).
“We want people to get the vaccine as fast as possible, but the vaccine must be safe for our people. We will order the vaccine once they become available from the Ministry of Public Health, and that is only after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed the vaccine is safe.
“Then we will consider which people are to be vaccinated first, in accordance with whatever the Ministry of Public Health determines,” she added.
“We deserve to get the vaccine quickly because Phuket is a tourism province, our people depend on tourism,” Mayor Chalermluck said.
Fear of contracting COVID-19 amid the latest outbreak has stifled any economic recovery in tourism-dependent Patong, Mayor Chalermluck noted.
The impact has been two-fold: tourists have decided against travel to avoid contracting the disease, and workers in the tourism industry in Phuket are fearful they might contract COVID-19 from a tourist who has just arrived in the province, she explained.
Of note, as of Tuesday, the PPHO had marked that it had been 26 days since Phuket had any patients confirmed as infected with COVID-19.
“The fear is dominating Phuket people. They do not want to receive visitors from another province as they are worried about the risk of getting COVID-19. They don’t want to be infected. So they are worried about taking care of tourists, and that leaves businesses stuck, unable to operate,” Mayor Chalermluck said.
“The vaccine is our hope in stopping this fear. If local residents receive the vaccine as quickly as possible, I think people will be more confident in receiving domestic tourists. Then businesses can run,” she added.
Phuket Chamber of Commerce President Thanusak Phungdet praised the move by local municipalities to start making plans to mass vaccinate people in their areas for free.
“Provinces that rely on tourism should receive the vaccine before other provinces. For Phuket, it will create more confidence among tourists wanting to travel here. Then businesses can start operating again, and that will help local people earn incomes that they can live on,” he said.