Phuket Lines Up Covid Boosters Before Tourists Arrive in Thailand


Residents on the Thai resort island of Phuket will get a third dose of vaccine to shield them from a resurgence in Covid-19 outbreak ahead of an expected rush in vaccinated tourists in the fourth quarter.

Phuket was the first Thai province to waive a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated foreign visitors in July after it hit a target of inoculating 70% of its residents. The island has seen a surge in cases in recent weeks due to the highly-contagious delta variant, raising concerns about similar reopenings planned for Bangkok and other popular tourist destinations. 

“The high vaccination rate in Phuket is keeping hospitalization and death rates low,” Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Thursday. “With the island becoming a gateway to enter the country, we’re preparing booster shots for those who are in close contacts with international travelers.”  

Phuket residents, who have received two shots of China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccine, will be eligible for an AstraZeneca Plc jab starting in October, Anutin said. “We’re not hoarding vaccines. We want to make sure that our gateway is safe,” he said.

Thailand, battling its most severe Covid outbreak so far, previously approved booster shots for its health-care and front-line workers, who were also inoculated with Sinovac vaccine, seen as less effective against the delta strain. Phuket residents will be among the first groups of general public in Thailand to receive a third dose. 

On Thursday, Phuket reported 219 new infections, taking its total case count to more than 6,000. There are currently 2,855 active cases, with nearly 80% of the island’s hospital beds currently occupied.

Under the so-called Phuket Sandbox, an experiment in reviving the pandemic-hit tourism industry, more than 26,000 vaccinated travelers arrived in the first two months, generating 1.6 billion baht ($49 million) in tourism revenue. Less than 1% of the visitors tested positive for the virus, according to Phuket officials.