23 May 2024

A vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm looks set to become the first alternative jab available to Thais, as Chulabhorn Royal Academy prepares to import 1 million doses next month. 

On Friday (May 28), the Sinopharm shot became the fifth vaccine approved by Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson brands.

How effective is it?

The Sinopharm jab is an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sinopharm/China National Pharmaceutical Group and approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for people aged 18 and above. The shot requires two doses at a recommended interval of three to four weeks.

According to WHO, the Sinopharm vaccine is 79 per cent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 infection and hospitalisation from 14 days after the second dose. It is also the first Asian COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by the WHO for emergency use.

However, there is no clear evidence yet of the vaccine’s efficacy against mutants of the virus, including the UK variant that is responsible for most of Greater Bangkok’s infections in the ongoing third wave.

Which countries have used it?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Peru, Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, China and Hungary have adopted this vaccine. Ruler of the UAE’s Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, took the jab himself in November last year.

The UAE also recently approved booster shots of the Sinopharm vaccine six months after residents get their second dose.

Who will get it?

Set to be imported by Biogenetech Co, the Sinopharm vaccine will not be free in Thailand. However, Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) – which is procuring this alternative – has said it will not profit from the rollout.

“We believe this vaccine should cost no more than Bt1,000 per dose,” CRA secretary-general Prof Nithi Mahanonda told the press on Friday. “It will be offered along with insurance to cover side-effects.”

Nithi said 1 million doses should be imported before the end of June for distribution to interested agencies and people. The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), for example, has already expressed interest in taking 300,000 doses, while oil and gas conglomerate PTT has placed an order for an undisclosed amount.

Wednesday (May 26)’s announcement in the Royal Gazette that the CRA was importing vaccine was greeted with widespread surprise. It appeared to contradict repeated insistence by Thai authorities that vaccine manufacturers were only dealing with governments.

Nithi, however, said CRA was importing the Sinopharm jabs in partnership with the FDA and Public Health Ministry.

One million Sinopharm vaccine doses to be delivered to Thailand in June

One million doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine will be delivered to Thailand next month, the Chulabhorn Royal Academy announced today (Friday), the same day on which Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) approved it for emergency use in the country.

Are other alternatives coming?

Nithi said the CRA would also consider importing other vaccines, depending on the changing COVID-19 situation.

At least three variants have been detected in Thailand in recent months. The variants are thought to be behind the soaring death toll during the third wave.

As of May 28, COVID-19 had claimed 954 lives in Thailand with the death toll rising to dozens per day since early last month.

Several private hospitals have also begun surveying demand for alternative vaccines, in a clear indication that more choices are being considered.

Thailand reportedly needs to procure 10 million doses of alternative vaccine to cover the whole country. Moderna jabs are expected to arrive by October, though the first shipment may arrive as soon as August if ongoing negotiations and preparations proceed smoothly.

“Each dose of Moderna costs US$35-$37. When combined with service fees and insurance for side effects, it will cost people about Bt2,000 per dose,” a source said.

Though the government is reportedly negotiating deals with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Russia’s Sputnik V, there have been no reports of significant progress yet.

If and when Pfizer’s vaccine arrives in Thailand, it will likely be reserved for minors as research shows this jab can be used on children aged 12 and up.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk