Opinion: The government needs to prioritize its people over profit in the march towards a vaccine

Each passing week seems to bring a new low in the ongoing mismanagement of the affairs of Thailand at the hands of the government led by 2014 coup leader Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.

The latest such low comes amid reports that the Thai government has rejected an offer by India to supply 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine immediately. 

The doses were priced at less than USD 3 each, 60 per cent cheaper than the USD 5 in projected costs for the same vaccine to be produced by Siam BioScience. Calls to authorities in Thailand have not seen any explanation or reason behind the rejection of the offer from India. 

The offer was reportedly first extended in December. Although there has been no comment by this government on that offer, Thailand has gone ahead and ordered a Chinese-made vaccine at USD 5 per dose. (Read more here)

The oligarchs before the people

The government’s procurement from China-based SinoVac Lifescience, 15-per-cent owned by Sino BioPharmaceutical, the pharmaceutical arm of CP Group, may raise questions or even eyebrows but comes as perhaps no great surprise amid the growing power of the Group.

A look back over how the country’s corporations have fared in the years since the 2014 coup shows how Thailand’s oligarchs have benefited from the rise of the absolute power. These wealthy individuals and their handful of large corporations have benefited immensely at the expense of the people. And the way the country has gone about procuring the Covid-19 vaccine has effectively written off the lives of ordinary citizens as “dispensable”, for the sake of the money-minting machines that serve the Who’s Who of Thailand.

This is not an uncommon theme since 2014, as many billionaires have benefited from the policies of this government and its predecessor rule under the military regime. In fact several new billionaires have been minted in Thailand since Prayut’s coup and owe him allegiance, with some reportedly contributing finance of billions of baht during previous elections.

The masses, on the other hand, have been suffering as the impact of the Covid-19 has left the country bruised like never before. 

Job losses in 2020 hit a record level while new graduates have been unable to land first jobs, with little hope in sight.

Every sector has been hit, with tourism the hardest as millions of people employed, directly or indirectly, in the sector are surviving on reduced income, social security funds or nothing no income at all.

Economy thrown out the window

The long-awaited vaccine has been seen as the knight in shining armour for the world, the one thing that promises to pull economies back from the brink.

But the rejection of millions of doses by Thailand is clear indication that this government is not so bothered about its economy.

An extra 2 million doses would only cover less than half the population, with the recommended double injections. But it would enable an immediate rollout of vaccinations for front-line medical staff and the elderly, and allow the country open its economy at a faster pace. 

The news about Thailand rejecting the millions of vaccines from India at cost is therefore very surprising.

This comes at a time when all countries around the world are in search of vaccines to protect their people from the deadly Coronavirus or Covid-19, which so far has infected close to 100 million people globally and has seen fatalities of around 2.2 million.

As the number of cases in Thailand continues to rise, thanks to the mismanagement of this government, be it from the lax management of the borders or the inability to rein in the various illegal gambling dens across the country, Thailand’s economy is set to face major uncertainties.

Thailand currently is facing its second wave of the virus, and the economy is likely to take another major hit.

With close to 9,500 new cases discovered since the single-day record of nearly 700 cases on December 20, economic growth is in doldrums.

The severity of the new wave is such that the Bank of Thailand (BoT) has said its growth projections of 3.2 per cent this year and 4.8 per cent in 2022 might be overly optimistic.

With the rising unemployment, falling consumption and possibilities of a lockdown, or even just a public reluctance to go out, the need to build confidence is paramount.

The incompetent government of General Prayut should realize what is at stake and therefore look at every possible way to help revive the confidence among the people, which would then help revive the economy.

It is therefore urgent and essential that this government take another look at its plan for the procurement of vaccines and, like every other country in the world, buy them from wherever they can, and not fixate on buying only from China or another ally. 

At the end of the day, the most important things is the wellbeing of the people of Thailand. Diplomatic priorities of being pro this or pro that country should take a back seat.

As Indian Ambassador Suchitra Durai, said, if Thailand said it is willing to buy even now, the government of India would be more than happy to take the matter forward and help the country with the vaccines it needs.

It is not too late to undo the stupidity that this government has undertaken. 

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