An interesting article about Thailand's king and their stuttering vaccine rollout from the Financial Times:
Thailand’s military-backed government faces growing questions from the public and big business. Delays and what some have called a botched national vaccine plan threaten to reopen raw political wounds and have turned the kingdom from a global standout in fighting Covid-19 infections to a laggard.https://www.ft.com/conten...c7-408d-9486-222fe2d65634
Ahead of Monday’s launch, Thailand had fully vaccinated just 2 per cent of its population, a smaller share than its poorer neighbours Cambodia and Laos — delaying the reopening of its tourism-reliant economy. Normally tame Thai media have described the rollout as “shambolic”. New coronavirus cases are averaging more than 20,000 a week and almost 70 per cent of the country’s total 1,300 deaths from the virus have come in the past month. Although that is far fewer deaths than many other parts of the world, the rise in cases has sparked anger in a country that brought infections down to zero last year.
At the heart of Thailand’s vaccination drive is an issue so sensitive that most Thais avoid discussing it openly. The vaccine is being made locally by Siam Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company that few had heard of before it sealed a deal with the Thai government and AstraZeneca to produce up to 200m doses a year of the global drugmaker’s Covid-19 vaccine as its sole south-east Asian production hub.
The company is owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the billionaire Thai monarch and head of state, who presides over the nation with an elevated status guaranteed by tradition and law.
As a result most Thais have had to measure their words. Saying anything that might be perceived as an insult to the royal family risks criminal prosecution under the country’s censorship laws, including lèse majesté, which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
Police in January charged Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the country’s most prominent opposition figure, under the law after he voiced doubts about the choice of Siam Bioscience to make vaccines. Some Thais are also beginning to question how AstraZeneca came to partner with the company.
“There are a lot of questions to be asked about Siam Bioscience, but now the ball is moving into AstraZeneca’s court,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political-science professor at Chulalongkorn University. “They would have had to be aware of the politics in Thailand, and the implications of entering a contract with a palace-owned company.”
He adds: “I think they made a blunder.”