A Thai man’s quest for a vaccine led him to the United States

According to some Thai politicians, the good vaccine is what’s available. I don’t believe so!

On 28 April 2021, I posted on my facebook the above statement asking the Thai government to consider allowing or supporting private hospitals or enterprises to import COVID-19 vaccines for the public to choose.

As a management team member of a widely known multi-national company, my HR had always asked for my cooperation on not criticizing the government through all my social channels. Good or bad, it is our government? In this case, all I was asking was for a window to be open for Thai people seeking to pay for their vaccines of choice.

Unfortunately, due to hurdles put in by the government, this freedom to choose would take sometimes (weeks or months) to be realized.

Living in one of the so-called ‘dark red’ zones in Bangkok, the new COVID-19 epicenter, my lifestyle has changed dramatically. From a highly social way of living, I locked myself in my 1-bedroom apartment since early April.

This is something that most of us are doing and the only trip I would make is the trip down the elevator to go pick up some food and groceries.

This lack of activity has made me lose 7-8 pounds in April alone – not to mention the expected mental health deterioration.

I knew I had to get out of the city or change things dramatically. I started to hear about how some Thais were going to the US to get vaccinated.

To make my life easier, my relatives and friends in the United States shared similar stories of how abundant the vaccine stock is there and how conveniently American citizens/permanent residents can have access to vaccinations in America.

But what about me? A total foreigner from Southeast Asia!

My sister and I did further homework and found out many US states, especially those with a huge number of both legal and illegal immigrants, provided COVID-19 vaccines to all, who are there in their territories regardless of nationalities.

You can choose your vaccine, pick a location, and schedule your most convenient time.

Having learned that, I started looking for potential flights. There were some airlines already operating Thailand-US flights (with stopovers somewhere in between) almost every day.

I decided to book my departing flight in mid-May.

As per international health requirement for travel during COVID-19, you need a negative PCR test result and the test must be done less than 3 days before departing.

One of the technicalities of flying during this time is if the flight is delayed it could cause you to be booted off the plane if the delay causes the results to not be valid.

Fortunately for me, the plane took off on time with myself carrying two negative COVID-19 medical certificates. I looked at the vastly deserted Suvarnabhumi Airport down there, whispering to myself “goodbye Thailand…see you again when I am fully vaccinated.”

About 31 hours after that, including an 8-hour transit in the Middle East, I arrived at San Francisco International Airport. The local time there was 13:30 hrs. The immigration line there was the shortest I had ever experienced. There used to be hundreds of people lining up for document check and interviews. But there were only a few people there when I arrived.

All through the journey, I had my mask on to protect myself and people who were traveling with me. The only time I took off the mask was when I was eating food or for drinks.

My sister picked me up from the airport. It took about an hour before we arrived at her home in Santa Rosa. Within hours of arriving, my sister told me she had booked an appointment for the vaccine.

“You can have your Pfizer vaccine today at CVS outlet (a pharmacy shop) in our neighborhood, if you want. You can register and get it at 16:30 or 17:00 hrs.”

It was possible, but after an ultra-long flight, I wanted to take some rest to be more ready for the vaccination and its possible side effects.

The next morning, I made my appointment online and booked my Pfizer vaccine. There, I presented them with the registration form. There was no waiting line. I waited for 5 minutes and was then asked by a female doctor to follow her to a private room. She took a couple of minutes to ask some questions about my health conditions and explain the Do and Don’t after the first shot. She also scheduled my second shot three weeks later.

The moment had finally come. The doctor cleaned and sanitized my left upper arm as per my choice and injected my first vaccine shot. It was fast and almost painless. Before you can feel any soreness, it was done!

I was told to stay 15 minutes at the waiting area to observe my symptoms. After that I went out for grocery shopping and visited some beaches nearby for sightseeing and to buy some seafood for dinner.

I was back to my house at about 16:00 hrs. When I started to feel tired. I took a nap for about an hour, during which I had a fever and sweated. I woke up for dinner, feeling better with only a sore upper arm. The side effect ended that evening and it has been normal ever since.

I am still in the United States as I write this waiting for my second shot. I will likely return to Thailand in June.

Some vaccinated people, doctors, and nurses said the second shot can be tougher in most cases. I will have to wait and see my case. I did not want to travel this far to get my vaccination but there was a scarcity of choices.

My Expenses List:

Airfares:                     

135,000 baht   (For ample social distance in business class cabin and lounges)

3 PCR tests on the way from and back to Thailand:

17,000 baht

15-day alternative state quarantine accommodation

55,000 baht

Leisure & Dining:

35,000 baht

Annual leaves (2020+2021)

21 days.

Relayed to Cod Satrusayang by Jack S.

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