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.
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
"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
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
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?"
Department answered itself: "We urge U.S.
traveling, or resident abroad, to make their own arrangements
regarding their medical care."
State Department said it shipped vaccinations to 220
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.
suggested "Thailand as a pilot location, for global
of Americans abroad."
pledge made by President Biden to make
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
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.
will try our best to vaccinate Thais within two months --
June and July -- and then try to open foreign resident registration in
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
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.
Sinovac vaccine meanwhile is already also being distributed
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
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
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
SinoPharm vaccines, relieving pressure on the government's budget.
Those shots may be resold by the Foundation to other organizations to use.
analysts suggested the Foundation's purchase could boost
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."
Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign
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