South-east Asia's Covid-19 vaccine scramble

Thai health officials administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 50 years of age in Bangkok, Thailand, on July 16, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Surging Covid-19 cases have sent Indonesians rushing to be inoculated, while Thais desperate for a shot turn to online shopping sites and vaccine tourism.

The Straits Times' correspondents report on the vaccination roll-out in South-east Asia and its critical role in stemming a fresh wave fueled by the Delta variant.

Long queues for Covid-19 vaccines as infections soar in Indonesia

Throughout her life, Dewi, an Indonesian mother of two, has turned to herbs and traditional medicine whenever she fell ill.

Over the past few months, she had refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19 because of what she read on social media about the purported side effects, including skin problems and death.

Lately, though, she has had a change of heart as many people she knows have contracted the disease and some have died. She is also well aware of the scarcity of hospital beds, medicines and oxygen.


Bureaucracy, distribution challenges hinder Covid-19 inoculation in Indonesia

Indonesia has secured 480 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines of various brands and almost one-third have been delivered, making it the country with the largest stock available in South-east Asia.

But getting them distributed and administered to people across the world's largest archipelagic nation is a daunting task that requires navigation across seas and tough terrains, as well as through a web of affiliations and bureaucracy.

Indonesia has 34 provinces that are made up by more than 500 cities and regencies.


Indonesian govt backs down on Covid-19 vaccine-for-sale move after outcry

Indonesia has scrapped a controversial plan to allow anyone to pay to be vaccinated against Covid-19, after a public outcry.

State-owned pharmaceutical firm PT Kimia Farma, with the government's backing, had offered to sell two doses for $82 in a scheme that was supposed to have been available from Monday.

President Joko Widodo "firmly ordered" that the programme be shelved for good following the public response, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said in a statement on Friday. "All vaccines shall remain free as had been conveyed by the President previously," he added.


Anxiety over Covid-19 vaccination amid tight supplies, efficacy doubts in Thailand

Public anxiety about Covid-19 vaccination in Thailand peaked in recent weeks as demand outstripped the number of doses in stock, even as concerns mount over the efficacy of one of the primary vaccines being offered in the mass inoculation drive.

The kingdom initially set a monthly target to administer 10 million doses when it started its nationwide roll-out last month, but insufficient stocks of locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines have hindered this goal and sent residents turning to other avenues for their jabs.

In the latest blow on Thursday, AstraZeneca asked to extend the delivery timeline for the 61 million doses meant to be supplied to Thailand by five months, from December to May next year.


Some Singaporeans in Thailand opt to wait for preferred Covid-19 vaccines

Some Singaporeans living in Thailand have watched in envy as friends and family get vaccinated at home.

"When peers (in our age group) in Singapore started getting vaccinated, we became kancheong ('overly anxious' in Cantonese)," said housewife Christine Lee, 35, who lives in Bangkok with her husband and young children.

She had tried to use the Thai government portal set up for foreigners to register for Covid-19 vaccines last month, but faced problems with the online application.


Other nations in South-east Asia ramping up Covid-19 vaccination drives

Like Indonesia and Thailand, the rest of South-east Asia is also in a race against time to get as many people inoculated as possible, as a Covid-19 surge rips through the region of over 650 million people.

Malaysia is struggling with record-high cases despite a lockdown that started on June 1, and health experts have warned that cases could go up to nearly 20,000 a day in the next two weeks.

The government has ramped up moves to administer Covid-19 shots to the population by opening up mega vaccination sites and deploying vaccination trucks. About 12 per cent of the 32 million population so far are fully vaccinated while 26 per cent have had their first dose. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is confident the country can attain herd immunity by the year end.


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