BANGKOK — A senior health official on Tuesday poured cold water on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s pledge to be the first Thai to get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing his age.
Although PM Prayut volunteered to be the first to draw up his sleeve and get inoculated with a vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinovac – the shipment of which is expected to arrive tomorrow – the jabs are recommended for those under the age of 59, said Supaporn Phumiamorn, Director of the Institute of Biological Products.
“Maybe he will get shot with another brand, like AstraZeneca,” she said by phone.
It was health minister Anutin Charnvirakul who said on Monday that the Premier insisted on being the first person to get vaccinated, in order to raise confidence about the upcoming inoculation drive against COVID-19.
“He waved his hand and called me over. He said, ‘Noo, if I can get it, I’m getting it, so citizens can be reassured,’” Anutin said. Noo is Anutin’s nickname.
“We have to make it possible, and find the safest way for him to get vaccinated. This is like how other country leaders are getting vaccinated,” he went on. “It’s also for his safety, since government officials like him travel a lot and meet many people.”
Anutin said he didn’t want to set an exact time and date for Prayut’s jab. “Let’s not set a date. If I set a date, we get criticized as soon as we’re two minutes late.”
The first shipment of about 200,000 doses of vaccine are scheduled to arrive in Thailand on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The rest of the 2 million doses will arrive through April, government officials said.
The government has been criticized for delays in rolling out vaccines; inoculation for frontline health workers and vulnerable groups was supposed to start on Feb. 14, but the date has since been pushed back.
“Right now, we’re all working on the basis of fear,” Anutin told reporters. “We’re afraid the airplane’s engine won’t start on Feb. 24. So if the vaccines don’t come, it’s not the government’s fault, because we already did everything on our part.”
When asked when he would be getting the jab, the health minister said, “After my boss, of course.”
But Prayut’s volunteer spirit was soon blocked by Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of the General Communicable Diseases Department, who told reporters that Sinovac doses will only be tributed to people between 18-59.
“We cannot give it to those under 18 or over 59, since there is no sufficient research data that can back it up,” Sophon said, adding that pregnant women will also be banned from getting the Sinovac doses out of health concerns.
True to his status as a politician, Anutin told reporters later on Tuesday that he merely communicated Prayut’s wish to be the first Thai national to get the vaccine – whether he’ll get it or not is not guaranteed.
“I’ve never said he will get inoculated with Sinovac’s vaccine,” Anutin said. “He was just expressing his wish, in order to make people confident in the vaccine’s safety. Everything will have to go through regulations. No exception.”
In an online statement published Tuesday morning, Prayut insisted the Sinovac shipment will arrive on time, but made no mention of when he’ll get vaccinated.
“The vaccination will begin for intended target groups within three days,” Prayut said.