Bhutan Sends 150,000 Vaccine Doses to Thailand amid COVID-19 Surge

The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan has delivered 150,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Buddhist-majority Thailand, which has been struggling with a vaccine shortage amid a rapidly escalating third wave of infections. The vaccine delivery, which arrived today, was approved under a swap agreement after the Thai government requested vaccines from Bhutan to help cover its domestic shortfall.

“The vaccine swap arrangement between Bhutan and Thailand . . . is on basis that Thailand will send back vaccines to Bhutan later on,” foreign ministry spokesperson Natapanu Nopakun said on Monday, ahead of the deal’s approval. (Reuters)

Thailand has been engulfed by a third wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections that first emerged on 1 April, traced to a cluster at a high-end Bangkok nightlife district frequented by the politically connected. This outbreak has since resulted in 980,847 COVID-19 patients, according to the official count, of whom 768,379 have recovered. Earlier today, the Thai authorities reported 240 COVID-19-related deaths and 19,851 new cases over the previous 24 hours as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread nationwide.

Critics have observed that due to the kingdom’s limited testing capacity and overwhelmed healthcare sector, actual COVID-19 infections and related deaths may be higher than official figures suggest

After an initially successful response last year in the early months of the pandemic, the Thai government failed to follow through with a decisive vaccine response. Critics have accused the military government of lacking foresight in managing the pandemic, with the national vaccination program hobbled by delays, confusion, and official obfuscation over the procurement and supply of vaccines. In particular, the government has struggled to secure sufficient vaccines in a timely manner due to complacency over the country’s initial success.

After realizing the severity of the domestic pandemic situation, the Thai government began seeking avenues to boost its vaccine supply just two months before it began its national immunization drive in June. Thailand has so far managed to fully vaccinate less than eight per cent of its population of some 69 million.

The permanent secretary of Thailand’s Public Health Ministry, Kiattiphum Wongrajit, said the vaccines from Bhutan would be checked for quality and then administered to the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women later this month, the Nation Thailand newspaper reported.