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U.S. Expats Demand Washington Provide Vaccines


BANGKOK, Thailand -- Some of Biden's and Trump's most active boosters
here in Southeast Asia have joined forces, demanding the State
Department vaccinate all American expats in Thailand, as a model for
international distribution, instead of discriminating against them.

"Biden has publicly announced that all Americans now have access to
vaccines, but the government and State seem to have forgotten about us
Americans living abroad," said the chair of Democrats Abroad in
Thailand, Paul Risley, in an interview.

"What are we, chopped liver?

"These are vaccines, offered for free to all in the U.S., and most of
them have been manufactured with taxpayer dollars."

Some worried American expats plan "to fly back to the U.S. -- costly
and risky travel that might bring variants back to the U.S," Mr.
Risley said.

Americans arriving in the U.S. on flights from Bangkok may "have to
stay in the U.S. for at least a month, to get two shots of an approved
vaccine.

"Some Americans may simply be too old to make the long flights, and
journey, back to the U.S," he said.

In addition to air tickets and other travel expenses, freshly
vaccinated Americans would "then have to pay for mandatory two-week
hotel quarantine" upon arrival, back home in Thailand.

"We have not historically provided private healthcare for Americans
living overseas, so that remains our policy," White House Press
Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in May.

"If a U.S. citizen wants to return to the United States, but does not
have access to sufficient funds for the cost of the ticket, the
Department of State is able to offer a loan to cover the cost of a
flight home," the State Department said in December.

A recent State Department's official "Q & A" travel advisory,
highlighted its own possible Catch-22:

"If airlines start requiring COVID-19 vaccination to travel -- or the
U.S. government starts requiring vaccination or negative tests to
enter the United States -- will U.S. citizens get stranded abroad? How
will the State Department help them?"

The State Department answered itself: "We urge U.S. citizens
traveling, or resident abroad, to make their own arrangements
regarding their medical care."

The State Department said it shipped vaccinations to 220 American
Embassies and Consulates worldwide, for their diplomats and other
employees, Reuters reported on April 16.

Democrats Abroad signed an unprecedented joint appeal with its
arch-rival Republicans Overseas Thailand, plus the Veterans of Foreign
Wars Post 12074, and the American Women’s Club of Thailand, addressed
to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on May 6.

They suggested "Thailand as a pilot location, for global vaccination
of Americans abroad."

"Fulfill the pledge made by President Biden to make coronavirus
vaccines available to all Americans," the letter said.

An estimated nine million private American citizens do not live in the
U.S., including tens of thousands dwelling in Thailand.

Many pay U.S. taxes, vote, and often visit their American hometowns.

"In this particular case, all of us are on board," Tony Rodriguez,
vice president of Republicans Overseas Asia, told U.S.-government
broadcaster Voice of America (VOA).

"Obviously, there's plenty of vaccines in America. Just get them on a
plane and fly them over," Mr. Rodriguez said.

American expats are demanding U.S.-made Pfizer and Moderna --
currently perceived as the world's two best vaccines -- be distributed
to them via the American Embassy in Bangkok and Consulate in Chiang
Mai, a northern city.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention operates its
biggest overseas facilities in Bangkok.

Some expats and Thais are also envious of China's bold program to mass
vaccinate Chinese citizens currently in Thailand and elsewhere --
contrary to virtually every other foreign government's inhospitable
international COVID-19 treatment of its expats.

While Thailand's total pandemic death toll passed 1,000 people,
Bangkok told all expats to wait.

"The Health Ministry plans to vaccinate Thais first," Bangkok
Metropolitan Administration's Health Department Director Panruedee
Manomaipiboon announced on May 14.

"We will try our best to vaccinate Thais within two months -- namely
June and July -- and then try to open foreign resident registration in
August."

About one million Thais and others have already received AstraZeneca jabs.

Bangkok-based Siam Bioscience is the local licensee for AstraZeneca production.

More people -- mostly Thais -- were scheduled for vaccination in June,
but critics said the process was too slow.

Concern about a lack of abundant vaccines was heightened when the
Health Ministry said AstraZeneca's required second shot would be given
in Thailand 16 weeks after the first -- instead of an earlier
suggested 10 weeks.

The ministry said it would also squeeze a maximum 12 shots per vial
instead of 10.

China's Sinovac vaccine meanwhile is already also being distributed to
the Thai public.

"I got the vaccine from Sinovac and visited many risk areas," boasted
gaffe-prone Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

"I am the person who is the most tested for the virus in the country.
And the results show I am still safe."

Beijing scored another diplomatic and financial success when a
government-controlled corporation arranged to sell China's a second
vaccine -- SinoPharm -- to the Chulabhorn Royal Foundation, which is
sponsored by one of Great King Vajiralongkorn's sisters, Princess
Chulabhorn.

Increasingly overwhelmed and politically vulnerable Prime Minister
Prayuth Chan-ocha came under fire however when some Thai analysts
suggested the deal exposed the government's seemingly hapless,
helpless ability to quickly provide mass vaccinations.

"It is abundantly clear now that the Thai government last year placed
the wrong bet in the beginning, by linking up the UK's
Oxford-AstraZeneca exclusively with the palace-backed Siam Bioscience
for licensed manufacturing," said Chulalongkorn University Political
Science Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

"Such a lack of choice and availability has made Thailand more
dependent on China," Mr. Thitinan wrote in his May 28 column.

He welcomed the Foundation's direct payment for reportedly one million
SinoPharm vaccines, relieving pressure on the government's budget.

Those shots may be resold by the Foundation to other organizations to use.

Some analysts suggested the Foundation's purchase could boost Mr.
Prayuth, allowing him to continue in power without the horrors of much
higher death tolls, amid a mournful trickle of vaccines.

Thailand's wretched, overcrowded prisons meanwhile suffered a spread
of infections to more than 18,000 inmates.

They included a pro-democracy leader, Panusaya "Rung"
Sithijirawattanakul, who was released in May to await her trials.

Mr. Risley meanwhile is campaigning hard.

He told VOA's Thai language broadcast:

"Americans who live abroad need to be vaccinated, for the same reasons
that Americans who live in the United States need to be vaccinated.

"It's the only way to stop COVID-19."

***

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent
reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his new nonfiction book,
"Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam,
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" are available at
https://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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