BANGKOK -- Non-life insurance companies in Thailand are competing to launch new policies that cover COVID-19 vaccine side effects, offering compensation and medical treatment for policyholders, as many Thais are concerned about side effects from the shots.
At least 15 non-life insurance companies out of a total 62 companies in the Southeast Asian country have submitted proposed vaccine side-effect policies to the Office of Insurance Commission for approval ahead of the start of vaccinations at private hospitals for the wealthy and employees of large corporations. Some eight companies had received a green light from the commission by Friday.
Thailand started its national vaccination program on March 1, aiming to inoculate 31.5 million people, or 45% of the country's 69 million people, by the end of the year.
Around 73,500 people have been inoculated so far, according to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration. Of that total, about 830 people, or around 1.13% of those receiving shots, had experienced side effects from the two vaccines the government has imported for the first phase of the rollout, one developed by China's Sinovac and the other from U.K.-based AstraZeneca.
Some Thais are concerned about the efficacy and side effects of the vaccines, particularly after media reports from Europe that in rare cases recipients of the AstraZeneca shot developed blood clots in the brain, prompting more than a dozen countries to suspend its use.
EU and British regulators last week concluded the vaccine's benefits outweigh the risks. However, fears of possible side effects lingered among many Thais, prompting some to refuse vaccination. A recent poll conducted by a Public Health Ministry institute found that only 55% of 55,068 respondents surveyed were willing to be vaccinated.
That reluctance offers an opportunity for insurers to sell new policies. Companies that have already launched products include big names such as Bangkok Insurance, Dhipaya Insurance, Muang Thai Insurance and Viriyah Insurance.
Bangkok Insurance has begun a marketing push, offering premiums as low as 99 baht ($3.20) annually, up to 679 baht per year. For the holder of the 99 baht policy, the maximum payout would be 100,000 baht for medical treatment and hospitalization resulting from vaccine side effects. Muang Thai Insurance sells 1,000-1,200 baht policies, which would pay up to 2 million baht of compensation.
Insurers in Thailand have been selling policies covering COVID-19 infection since early last year, when the pandemic started. Around 250,000 Dhipaya Insurance customers have purchased the policy, earning it premium income of about 1.5 billion baht. The company's managing director, Somporn Suebthawilkul, said those customers are extending their policies, as well as buying coverage for vaccination side effects.
Thailand's vaccination program is currently being implemented only at public hospitals, free of charge. But the government is soon expected to allow private hospitals to import and distribute other vaccines for people who are willing to pay.
Somporn said his company is in talks to partner with private hospitals to sell Dhipaya policies. Premiums can be included in the vaccination packages offered by private hospitals. "We expect to see more clients after private hospitals get a green light from the government to import vaccines," said Somporn.