Opinion: Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel

It has become so horrifyingly monotonous. We have all been desensitized to infection numbers that would have shocked us last year. The death toll — for so long mercifully low in Thailand — is now regularly in the double digits. These numbers have now become daily statistics, but they are, of course, real people. 

Amid the unrelenting bad news, however, perhaps there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel. Over 400,000 vaccinations were delivered on the first day of the mass inoculation campaign this Monday. Amid genuine doubt, it is certainly nothing to scoff at and a a true testament to the heroes on the frontline. It revealed both the strength of our health system and the state’s capacity to do big things, where there is the will. 

Whether Thailand can actually keep up its vaccination rate remains, of course, an open question. The government is hoping to administer 100 million doses by the end of the year. Given that so far a little under 5 million doses have been administered, Thailand would need to keep up its current rate of vaccinations every single day for the rest of the year to reach its goal. It’s ambitious, to put it mildly, especially since that would require virtually uninterrupted supply. 

But to shoot for lofty goals is better than not to aim at all. And the supply problem, hopefully, will get better. The government plans to keep 2-3 million doses of Sinovac flowing in a month, for a total of 10-15 million doses, while AstraZeneca is contracted to deliver 61 million doses. Thailand’s vaccine procurement plans have also become clearer and more diverse, after much criticism about Thailand’s bet on only two horses. Millions of doses of Sinopharm, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are poised to join in the mix, along with possible deals with Moderna and Sputnik V. 

Throughout this crisis, something that one can suspect many of us have felt is a certain sense of powerlessness, that we are mere spectators to much bigger events. Small individual actions, we were told, could help, such as wearing a mask. But otherwise, we seemed to be at the mercy of restrictions thrown upon us by politicians, bureaucratic prevaciration and contradiction, ever-changing vaccination registration plans and emerging new variants that unceasingly seem to threaten to derail our hopes for an end to the pandemic. 

Are the pieces falling in place a little late? Probably.

Yet, even as the end is some ways off, for the first time in many months, it does feel like there is a goal that is within our grasp. 

The next few months will be crucial for determining whether or not Thailand is able to reopen next January, as is currently planned. That we are able to do so is crucial, both in terms of eliminating the virus and to stop it from taking lives, and to ensure the economy can restart and protect the livelihoods of millions in this country. 

And in our own small ways, we can do our part to work towards that goal. 

First and foremost: please get a vaccination. It’s a much-repeated exhortation, but it is, I believe, a worthy repetition. Needless to say, not everyone who wants a vaccination is able right now to get one. But when you are able, please do so, for it is the only way to generate herd immunity. All our vaccines work, and that includes Sinovac, which has recently been approved by the World Health Organization. 

Secondly, please consider supporting organizations that are doing their best to take Thailand through the pandemic, if you are able. The daily death toll is a reminder that even a health system as resilient as Thailand’s is undergoing severe stress and strain. Numerous hospitals are accepting donations, as are charitable organizations such as the Thai Red Cross and Chaipattana Foundation. Some places you can donate to are listed in this thread here. 

You can also donate to help develop ChulaCov19, a locally-produced mRNA vaccine that will soon conduct human trials. As Chulalongkorn Vaccine Research Center Kiat Ruxrungtham said in an interview with Nature, this vaccine has the potential to become part of the arsenal of second and third generation vaccines to be deployed against new variants, and so far the vaccine has shown promising results. 

Just as crucial is to keep in mind the economic damage that has taken a toll across Thai communities. It is heartbreaking, for example, to learn that the Thai Restaurant Association estimates 10,000 restaurants to go out of business by the end of the outbreak: something which has affected, is affecting and will continue to affect not only the owners but all the workers involved. For the next few months, let’s try to support businesses to the extent we can and help push them over the line. Organizations such as Bangkok Community Help are also doing a lot of the heavy lifting to support underprivileged local communities, and they, too, deserve our support. 

The ship of the Thai state has long traveled through turbulent waters, and rarely has the path felt more perilous. Yet, it appears — or at least we can hope — we are destined for smoother sailing. And together, we can make it less perilous still. 

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