Coronavirus vaccines hard to come by in Thailand, so wealthy head for overseas jab tours


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Wealthy Thais are flying overseas for their COVID-19 vaccines, claiming they don’t want to delay vaccination and don’t trust the vaccines offered in Thailand.

Their choice to spend thousands of dollars to get the vaccine overseas comes as people across the country attempt to navigate what some have described as a “chaotic” vaccination program rollout.

After a slow start and a confusing check-in process, thousands of appointments had to be rescheduled because the doses had not arrived on time.

At the same time, Thailand is in the midst of its third and worst wave of the virus, with more than 3,000 new infections reported every day, including the new Delta variant.

Popular Thai language teacher and TV host Jakkrit Yompayorm recently returned from a trip to the United States to get two doses of Pfizer.

“I know that [the] the vaccine is good for me and for everyone, so I wanted to be vaccinated, and I don’t know how long I [would have had] to wait if I stayed in Thailand, “the 32-year-old told ABC.

“I don’t trust the quality of Sinovac, so I wanted to get the vaccine that could make me confident.”

Jakkrit Yompayorm spent $ 4,200 traveling to the United States from Thailand for two doses of Pfizer. (

ABC News: Mazoe Ford

)

Mr Yompayorm said he made an appointment at a Walmart drugstore before leaving Thailand and already had a visa for the United States.

The vaccine was free, but he spent around $ 4,200 on plane tickets and other travel-related expenses, including two weeks in hotel quarantine on the way back to Thailand.

Young Thai man wearing white mask takes selfie at Walmart drugstore
Jakkrit was willing to pay for a trip to the United States to be shot by Pfizer because he was unsure of Sinovac’s effectiveness. (

Youtube

)

Mr Yompayorm said he felt lucky that he could afford to go to the United States to get the vaccine.

“It’s a choice I can choose, I think if you have enough money you can go and get the shot in the United States, but actually I think the [Thai] the government should provide a good vaccine for everyone, ”Yompayorm said.

“The main reason I made the decision to go to the United States is that I want to be safe.”

Travel agents offer “vaccine vacations”

Some Thai travel agents whose businesses practically dried up when the pandemic shut down most overseas travel had tried to make money, offering “vaccine vacations” to the United States.

The packages include visits to tourist sites as well as a pharmacy to be vaccinated, the duration and the cost of the visits depending on the interval between the first and the second injection.

Rachpol Yamsaeng, of Bangkok-based travel company Unithai Trip, said that when he and his business partner visited the United States a few months ago, they learned that “even tourists” can get a hit, so they decided to give it a try.

“We didn’t believe it… but we tried anyway and we were in the queue in two days,” Yamsaeng, 32, told ABC.

“I walked in and got the jab. I was shocked. I thought it was a fluke.”

A young Thai man in black sunglasses holds a vaccination card
Rachpol Yamsaeng came up with the idea for jab tours when he was in the United States and discovered that foreigners could be vaccinated for free. (

Youtube

)

Mr. Yamsaeng said that when his company started advertising visits, it received “hundreds of thousands of calls.”

As people weighed down the cost and practicalities, including getting a visa and spending two weeks in quarantine in a hotel in Thailand, demand subsided.

“They need the money, but the money is not enough. They also need the time because of the quarantine on the way home,” he said.

Despite this, he said he booked vaccine tours for several dozen people who didn’t want to wait their turn in Thailand or who had doubts about the vaccines on offer.

A tourist advertisement in Thai with a woman rolling a suitcase near a photo of a vaccine vial
Thai tourism companies offer “vaccine vacations” to those who can afford it. (

Provided: Unithai Travel

)

He said some people spent up to $ 8,300 to go on one of his tours.

“No matter what it takes, they want to get the jabs [in America] and at least they can feel more relaxed living in Bangkok [after being vaccinated]”Mr. Yamsaeng said.

In addition to America, well-heeled Thais also travel to Russia and Serbia to get vaccinated.

Some have posted their privileged trips online, much to the disgust of ordinary Thais – especially those who lost loved ones or their livelihoods during the pandemic.

For those living below the poverty line in overcrowded slums and construction camps that have seen large outbreaks of COVID-19, the idea of ​​traveling abroad for a vaccine is unfathomable.

Thailand is considered one of the most unequal societies in the world, with a 2021 Credit Suisse report showing that only 1% of the population owned more than 40% of the country’s wealth.

Ordinary Thais try to navigate a ‘chaotic’ system at home

The easy pharmacy hit with a fun vacation in the United States is a far cry from the chaotic vaccination schedule most Thais have tried to get into.

So far, 8 million people in Thailand have received a jab, just over 10% of the population. About 3% are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The government started with healthcare workers and vulnerable communities in March using the Chinese-made Sinovac product.

Large-scale deployment began in early June, mainly using doses of AstraZeneca produced locally by a company owned by the King of Thailand.

Lines of Thai people standing outside a building
Vaccination centers have been set up in train stations and shopping malls in Thailand.

Large, well-organized vaccination centers were set up at train stations, shopping malls, sports stadiums and airports to speed up the rollout, but scheduling appointments was confusing and complicated.

A first plan to allow walk-in vaccinations was canceled by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha after his announcement, while a mobile phone app for making appointments crashed on day one, then canceled the appointments without notification.

Hospitals started taking reservations based on the number of vaccines allocated to them by the health ministry, but more than 20 facilities in Bangkok had to reschedule appointments when doses failed to reach. time.

One of those affected by the delays in Bangkok was Sawad Kamwaboon, 85.

A Thai woman wearing a face mask squats next to an elderly man, sitting in a wheelchair
It was stressful for Sirima Kamwaboon (left) to organize a vaccine for her 85-year-old father, Sawad Kamwaboon. (

ABC News: Mazoe Ford

)

His daughter Sirima Kamwaboon, 46, said that after signing up her elderly father for a date through the app, the first available date wasn’t for another month.

Then, the day before their appointment at the local hospital for Mr. Kamwaboon’s first dose, his appointment was canceled without an explanation or a proposed replacement date.

Ms Kamwaboon heard that she could register her father again at a major vaccination center at a train station on the other side of Bangkok, where they lived.

“I tried calling to register and it was so hard to get through, but I finally got an appointment,” Ms. Kamwaboon said.

“But I had to come here, there was so much traffic, so many people, it was difficult to travel here, it’s far from home. My father is very old and he is tired of traveling.”

Elderly Thai man gets needle from nurse in his arm
Sawad Kamwaboon finally got his hang of it after weeks of trying to get a date. (

ABC News: Mazoe Ford

)

Ms Kanwaboon said she did not know how old people without children or someone to help them would be able to develop the “chaotic” system.

“It’s frustrating,” she said.

Thai prime minister apologizes for delays

The Thai prime minister apologized for the delays in vaccinations and said he had asked relevant government agencies to sort them out.

“I am the top leader in this war on COVID,” Prayuth said.

“I have to apologize for the problems that have occurred and take full responsibility for it.”

Despite the hiccups, the government says its plan to vaccinate about 70 percent of the population by the end of the year remains on track.

Mr Yamsaeng said he was happy to see vaccines now rolling out across Thailand, although the jab tours have provided his business with a much needed boost.

“That’s good. I’m happy. Even though I sell tour packages, I don’t want the vaccines to come slowly,” he said.

“If many Thais received the vaccine and the country reopened both entry and exit [travellers] then my business can come back. “

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