Let’s Not Be Too Presumptuous On A Covid-19 Vaccine
Just like we don’t know when the border restrictions will be loosened or what future entry into the Kingdom of Thailand will look like, we shouldn’t make overly presumptuous assumptions about either the availability of, or mandates relating to a hypothetical Covid-19 vaccine.
Why do I believe this? Well, for starters, several high-profile virologists and scientists don’t believe that a successful coronavirus vaccine can be developed. They’ve been trying to develop one for decades without much success. After more than 40 years, a HIV vaccine didn’t go beyond experimental status. A swine flu shot was developed in 2009, but when the funding dried up nothing was heard about it ever again. Ditto for MERS. An experimental Ebola shot exists, but to the best of my knowledge it was only ever administered on a trial basis to vulnerable groups. Even though this event is far grander than any previous pandemic of the past, in particular in terms of how nations and the global economy have responded to it, it hasn’t seen greater morbidity or mortality than usual and thus there is very little justification for a Covid-19 vaccine. One day cases will start to fizzle out and it will be just like a seasonal flu.
I don’t see a domestic mandate happening, outside of previously declared “outbreak situations”. This clause apparently comes from the 2005 Emergency Act that is the basis for the pandemic response to the current State of Emergency. Similar language exists in a CDC document from 2016 I think it was, referring to the right of the US government to mandate vaccines and therapeutics to deal with an epidemic situation. Ditto for legislation in Denmark’s corona virus response that expires sometime in late 2021 as well as in many other countries.
The Bangkok Post indicated recently that the government was planning on purchasing 33 million doses, roughly sufficient to vaccinate half of all Thai residents. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1999503/thailand-in-talks-with-russian-chinese-uk-vaccine-developers. 30-50% vaccination coverage is what Bill Gates wishes to achieve, according to a recent interview he made (I think it was with the TED founder). As those who have done a bit of research into Bill Gates’ Foundation and his close connection to the World Health Organization know, what he says should be taken seriously. Even though he’s not a doctor, he holds an enormous amount of clout.
I believe that demand for the vaccine will be large enough to inoculate those that want the shot, leaving those that don’t, the option of foregoing it, without undue coercion. Frontline health workers, the elderly and perhaps the young, will be prioritized long before farangs get the option. Will a shot be required to seek a visa extension? This time last year any such suggestion would have been the domain of “paranoid conspiracy theorists” yet all of a sudden, those who used to shrug off such ideas are now the ones who are most likely to promote them.
I see things more rationally. I don’t see it happening in Thailand, at least not for several years to come, for the following reasons: 1) if the test is the precursor to the vaccine, then we can conclude that since Thailand has not engaged in a mass testing campaign, in particular of foreigners who live in the Kingdom, then why would they suddenly require one for visa extensions? 2) Even if they did, agents could get you out of the obligation, for a price. Remember, the Thai government’s strategy has been to make it appear that the country is safe and virus-free domestically…just that it imposes stringent requirements to enter or return to the country. Long before a Covid-19 vaccine comes into play, a digital health passport such as this one, might hold the key to re-opening borders:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-01/blockchain-app-from-eu-tech-hub-may-solve-virus-passport-puzzle or perhaps not: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2020-07-22/covid-19-immunity-passports-are-going-nowhere
Any Covid-19 vaccine requirement will hinge upon WHO recommendations, mandates or guidelines. Thailand can’t and won’t unilaterally impose such a requirement all on its own. That’s not how things work (consider the Yellow Fever shot guidelines as an example). Therefore, the way I see it happening is IF a vaccine requirement comes into play, it will ONLY be required for crossing the border. In other words, it will allow the country to remain “covid-free” because the assumption is the vaccine will “immunize” that is, “eliminate” the virus from those entering the country. Thus, if Thailand is already “covid-free”, targeting expats, especially retirees, some of whom haven’t left the country in years, doesn’t seem like sound policy or make any sense. It would essentially be admitting the virus IS present! So while I can’t predict the future, I think resident expats can rest easy.
If there’s any country that could impose a covid vaccine requirement to extend a visa, it might be a country like China or Vietnam. How do I reach this conclusion? Well, Vietnam’s response to the virus has been very stringent, in many ways even more so than Thailand’s. They also shut their borders to Chinese arrivals way back in February, many weeks before Thailand followed suit. They were the first country outside of China to impose lockdowns, starting with a targeted lockdown in a village just outside of Hanoi, back in mid-February. Also, during that country’s second wave that started in Da Nang, there was a mass testing drive. The city of Da Nang set out to test all 1 million + residents, including all 2200 foreigners living or stuck there at the time. They also stopped all transportation in and out of the city. Not sure what would have happened to foreigners refusing to undergo testing.
Finally, if there is a Covid-19 vaccine requirement for travel, expect airlines to be the first to implement it, and also expect it to be global. Thailand will follow the same recommendations or mandates as every other country. In the end, whatever Thailand does, it will be the same as what Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam or even Australia, New Zealand or the United States do.
I have no idea if a vaccine will be developed or not. One can find experts online to support whatever one’s thoughts are on the matter. My main worry is that the current situation drags on and life as we knew it is a long time from returning.