Opinion: Thailand wants to withhold vaccines from its neighbours, it is the wrong move

News has emerged this weekend that the Ministry of Public Health and its minister Anutin Charnvirakul has plans to withhold locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines from export.

Thailand is currently in the midst of the third wave of the pandemic with hundreds of thousands of people infected and thousands more dead.

Anutin has asked AstraZeneca and its local manufacturer to increase the amount of doses available to Thailand and, according to sources, if that doesn’t work would ask the cabinet to impose an export ban.

The obvious argument to make here is that it should have never gotten to this point. If the ministry and the government had planned ahead instead of underestimating the country’s need, we would never have had to make this decision. (Read more here)

If the ministry does go ahead with the decision to impose an export ban on AZ vaccines, it could have disastrous consequences for the country not only in terms of our relationship with our neighbours but with how the country is perceived going forward.

The most immediate fallout will of course be diplomatic in nature. Thailand is not the only country struggling to keep Covid-19 under control. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all have the same worries we do, have lost lives like we have, and need to inoculate its citizens as fast as possible.

To deprive our neighbours access to vaccines is inhumane and not neighborly. Nationalism, tribalism, and the other troublesome isms have no place during a time of collective struggle. By showing our humanity now, we build relationships with the countries closest to us for years to come.

Inversely, if we are selfish and shortsighted, we risk becoming the pariah state of Southeast Asia – the neighbor that nobody wants to have.

If we choose to impose the import ban, there are other consequences including how foreign companies views Thailand. AstraZeneca have contracts in place with the other governments within the region and they would not look kindly upon such impositions by our government.

Thailand has always been known as a relatively safe place for investment within the region – despite our political troubles.

An import ban would jeopardize that reputation and hurt future deals not only with pharmaceutical companies but with companies that rely on our infrastructure and international agreements to boost their supply change. In short, it could affect business sentiment for years to come.

Let us remind ourselves that we should never have had to make this decision. It was Anutin and the government who promoted Siam Bioscience as a viable production partner though the company had no previous track record, it was Anutin and the government who failed to order adequate vaccine supplies, it was Anutin and the government who relied on unreliable vaccines like Sinovacs to make up the numbers.

The reason we are jeopardizing our future relations with our neighbours is because of our own government’s incompetence.

And in trying to rectify their own past mistakes, the government seems willing to ignore our country’s future.

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