Opinion: Thailand must step up vaccine program to meet October reopening deadline

The government announced on Wednesday night that it would seek to open the country within 120 days or roughly by October.

In his televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha told the people that this was a calculated risk the government was taking so that livelihoods are not destroyed and the economy could get back on track.

It is a commendable notion. It is something that all Thais, regardless of political affiliation, should want to succeed.

But one does worry that this calculated risk that the government is taking discounts new findings made about the Delta variant of the virus. (Read more here)

Research out of the United Kingdom released this week found that the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, doubles the risk of hospitalization and is more transmissible than previous mutations.

More importantly, the research found that the only solution that worked against the spread of the Delta variant was a fully vaccinated population.

As reuters reports:

“[Public Health England] said that the Pfizer/Biontech COVID-19 vaccine was 96% effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant after two doses, while Oxford/AstraZeneca’s offered 92% protection against hospitalisation by Delta.”

By the Thai government’s own admission, 50 million will have had at least one jab of the vaccine by October. This is not enough to contain the Delta variant should it arrive with the reopening of the country.

By Prayut’s own admission, this decision will lead to more infections but it is a calculated risk he is willing to take.

What he needs to do is calculate better and expedite both the importation and production of local vaccines.

One jab is not enough. If this deadline is to be met and met successfully then the prime minister of Thailand and his cabinet must do all it can to fully inoculate the population.

The Delta variant, as research has shown, is fast becoming the dominant strain in the UK and the United States. In Europe, the number of Delta variant infections are also rising. These are the populations that Thailand is targeting for tourism.

The reopening can and must happen but the calculated risks can be further mitigated by a robust vaccine program between now and October.

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