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.
Bilateral ties between Bhutan and Thailand were established in 1989 and have strengthened over the years, in part as both nations have a strong tradition of monarchy, and because both have Buddhist-majority populations and deeply rooted Buddhist heritage and culture.
Bhutan has been commended for the rapid rollout of its own COVID-19 vaccination program, which began in March and saw the Buddhist Kingdom fully vaccinate 90 per cent of its adult population in a week. Bhutan has reported 2,580 infections and just three COVID-19-linked deaths from a population of some 770,000.* The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has described Bhutan as a “beacon of hope for the region, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives and devastated families.” (UNICEF)
The Bangkok Post newspaper reported on Friday that Thailand has recorded a total of 1,009,710 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and 8,826 related deaths. According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, the Thai authorities have reported administering 25.2 million vaccine doses.* Globally, total cases have exceeded 210 million, with 4.4 million related deaths recorded and 4.83 billion vaccine doses administered.*
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 94.5 per cent of the nation’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2015. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 40,000 Buddhist temples and almost 300,000 monks. While communities of female renunciants also exist, the monastic authorities in Thailand have never officially recognized the full ordination of women, and bhikkhunis do not generally enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.
Bhutan delivers 150,000 vaccine doses to Thailand (The Nation Thailand)
Short on COVID-19 vaccines, Thailand seeks to borrow from Bhutan (Reuters)
Covid cases top one million (Bangkok Post)
UNICEF hails Bhutan’s successful completion of full COVID-19 vaccinations for 90% of the eligible population (UNICEF)
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