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A group of doctors has submitted a petition, signed by over 200,000 medical professionals and members of the public, demanding that the government and the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) provide mRNA Covid-19 vaccines for frontline workers.

Group representatives submititng their petition at parliament

The group, known as the Public Health Association and “Mor Mai Thon” (“Doctors won’t tolerate it”), went to parliament on 7 July to submit their petition, which was received by Somboon Utaiwiankul, Secretary to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and representatives of both government and opposition MPs, except for MPs from the Bhumjaithai Party (the leader of Bhumjaithai, Anutin Charnvirakul, is the Minister of Public Health).

The group called for the government and the GPO to speed up the process of importing mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, such as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are the most effective and work against several variants of the Covid-19 virus, as well as being effective for lessening the chance of severe symptoms and death.  

They demanded that the government use mRNA vaccines as the main vaccines in the Covid-19 vaccination programme, and to provide the public with these vaccines free of charge. They also asked that the authorities disclose information about the process of procuring and distributing vaccines and to make the process transparent and open to the public.

Currently, the Thai authorities provide mainly 2 vaccines for the public: Sinovac and AstraZeneca, which are allocated to people over the age of 60. However, questions have been raised over the effectiveness of the Sinovac vaccines.

Private hospitals are also opening bookings for Moderna vaccines, but it is unclear when the vaccine will become available.

The group’s statement said that Thailand is currently facing a shortage of medical professionals and supplies, as well as of admission facilities for Covid-19 patients, especially those who have severe symptoms or need a respirator. They also said that without effective vaccines to prevent the spread of new variants of the virus, such as the Delta variant, the public health system could collapse.

Group representative Dr Santi Kitwattanapaiboon said that the group is calling for the government to speed up imports of mRNA vaccines and use them as the main vaccines, as the number of new cases is likely to continue rising and it is impossible to control the spread of the virus, causing problems for medical professionals and the public who are affected by lockdown measures. Medical professionals have even lost their lives working on the frontline, but the country still does not have access to effective vaccines.

When asked about some people who said that doctors are selfish for wanting a booster shot in addition to the initial 2 doses, Dr Santi said that if medical professionals receive effective vaccines, then it reduces the risk of infection or workers having to go into quarantine, because if a medical professional tests positive for the virus, it could mean the closure of emergency rooms, operating theatres, or examination rooms, affecting patients needing other medical procedures.

“I think that if the 2 doses can prevent infection and spread [of the virus], then that’s one thing, but many cases can show us that medical professionals have been infected and have to quarantine. Some have even got infection in their lungs and lost their lives. These people have been fighting Covid-19 for almost a year and a half. Can you call them selfish for getting better armour?” Dr Santi said.

He also said that the group’s goal is for everyone to have access to a range of vaccines free of charge, but currently, the public has no choice. Once there are several vaccines available, it would be up to each person whether they would choose to receive the vaccine.

The Medical Council of Thailand also issued a statement on 8 July, saying that as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise, the Council encourages both the government and the private sector to proceed with sourcing a variety of vaccines as soon as possible.

The vaccines must also be effective against variants of the virus, such as mRNA vaccines, and must be available to those who haven’t received the vaccine and as booster shots for those who have already received their initial dosage.

The Council also encourages the provision of mRNA vaccines for frontline medical workers, as well as for free access to the vaccines for everyone. They also said that Covid-19 testing should be widely available, so that those who test positive can receive prompt treatment.

Students burn effigies to protest government pandemic handling

Also on 7 July, a group of students gathered in front of the Ministry of Public Health to demand that Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul come to receive their complaint about the procurement and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and the rising death toll.

The students poured red paint on body bag-like effigies they prepared. (Picture from Voice TV)

The group, made up of around 10 students, were blocked from going inside the Ministry by police officers carrying shields. Ministry spokesperson Dr Rungruang Kitpati came to receive their letter and asked the group to hold their activities outside, but the students insisted they would hand their letter only to Anutin.

Voice TV reported that the students then gave speeches criticizing the government for failing to properly handle the pandemic, leading to many deaths. They then poured red paint over the effigies they prepared, before pouring oil over them and attempting to set them on fire before officers from Muang Nonthaburi Police Station and security personnel from the Social Security Office used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out.

The students also dragged the effigies along the street to represent the loss suffered by the people during the pandemic. They tried again to set the remaining figures on fire, but the flames were doused by officials.

The students then shouted “let us in,” before throwing out printouts of their letter and ending their gathering at around 11.30.

Police blocking entrance to the Ministry (Picture from Voice TV) 

Their statement criticized the government for their failure to provide the public with Covid-19 vaccines and demanded that the government provide the public with effective vaccines free of charge, especially for students who have had to study online for a long time and are still unable to return to school.

They demanded that the government procure vaccines for the public within 7 days, or they will continue protesting with other groups.

On 9 July, Thailand hit a new high for number of new Covid-19 patients, with 9275 new cases being reported, bringing the total number of cases since April 2021 to 288,643. 72 deaths were also reported, bringing the death toll since April 2021 to 2440.

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