EXCLUSIVE: Government inaction blocking private hospital vaccine purchase despite Prayut promise

Despite promises made by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, government hurdles and red-tape have made it impossible for private hospitals to acquire vaccines on their own despite having the agency and connections to make it happen.

Thailand is currently fighting its most severe wave of the Covid-19 pandemic with infection rates climbing into the quadruple digits and the death toll mounting.

Among the major criticisms aimed at the government from political opponents and erstwhile allies is the current national vaccination plan which has lagged behind other countries. (Read more here)

Local media have been reporting since last year that private hospitals seeking to independently acquire vaccines were being rejected by the public health ministry on the grounds that the government would be able to source enough vaccines for the country.

But with the rise of the third wave, that vaccination plan seems to have failed in its entirety with the population not inoculated in any substantial way.

As a result, Prayut promised in a nationally-televised address to set up a committee to help the private sector bring in vaccines to supplement the government’s effort.

Thai Enquirer has learned, however, that in the two-weeks since Prime Minister Prayut made the statement there has been no change on the ground and private hospitals are still frustrated by the lack of government communication and agency on the matter.

“At the moment, it is impossible for the private sector to bring in vaccines due to the government’s inaction,” said Dr Suwadee Puntpanich, a director at Thonburi Bamrungmuang Hospital which is part of the Thonburi Healthcare Group.

Suwadee explains that due to the global pandemic, all vaccine orders must be countersigned by the government due to regulations put in place by the World Health Organization.

“We have sent numerous applications for vaccines to the Ministry of Public Health, to the minister, to the permanent secretary and have received no response,” she told Thai Enquirer.

Suwadee said the only government agency that have responded to their request was the Food and Drug Administration who wrote back saying that it was not their job to approve vaccine requests.

Another hospital administrator at the Bangkok Dust Medical Centre said that Suwadee’s experience was shared by all other private hospital groups.

“It is incredibly frustrating,” the administrator said on the condition of anonymity. “We stand ready to help the government and the public but they don’t seem to want our help. At the very least they can communicate with us.”

According to the source at BDMS, the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul has come out to say previously that the private sector didn’t need to source their own vaccines, just to help bring in patients to get vaccinated once the government brought in the necessary doses.

“What a ridiculous statement, now with the third wave the government will need all the help it can get but even now they’re not letting us move forward,” the source said.

According to Suwadee, every private hospital group has connection to drugs manufacturers as it was part and parcel of their business.

“We know the market and have the contacts to make the vaccine imports happen but they can’t sell to us without a government go-ahead,” she said. “The prime minister has said that he wants private sector help but so far there has been zero communication from the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration or the health ministry.”

“There is no timeline for when we can bring in vaccines because we simply don’t know when the government will reply to our requests,” she said.

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