BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thailand began vaccinating Buddhist monks against the coronavirus this week, hoping to build up their protection to enable them to safely perform their spiritual duties.

About 500 monks were inoculated in the capital, Bangkok, on Tuesday (May 18) and Wednesday, to allow them to receive daily alms and do merit-making activities, as Thailand battles its third and most potent wave of infections.

“These activities are putting them at risk where they can come into contact with an infected person,” said Mr Montchai Chumnumnavin of Bangkok’s Priest Hospital, a medical facility exclusively for monks, where the vaccines were administered.

“The faster we can provide them with vaccines, they will build up immunity to protect them from contracting the disease from devotees.”

After successfully thwarting earlier outbreaks, Thailand is dealing with a more stubborn wave that has seen overall cases nearly quadruple since early April, and deaths increase sixfold. Bangkok is the epicentre.

The country has yet to start its mass immunisation drive, with only about 1.5 million people getting a first dose so far, mostly front-line health workers or vulnerable groups.

Mr Montchai said vaccine supplies would not cover all of Thailand’s estimated 200,000 monks.

Mass inoculations are due to start next month, when domestic production of AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to begin.

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