Controversy, delays and now a health scare – Thailand’s vaccination drive stalls again
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s COVID-19 vaccination was again cancelled at last minute on Friday. The cancellation adds another twist to the already-dramatic story here of the COVID-19 vaccine that has been developed through AstraZeneca – Oxford University collaboration.
The latest cancellation happened for “safety reasons” after Denmark, Norway, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have halted some or all of their AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccinations over fears of blood clots.
“We will put off the use of AstraZeneca vaccine because (on Thursday night), Austria and Denmark reported blood-clot incidents in persons getting inoculated,” Prof Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said in his capacity as the advisor to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
At present, the European Medicines Agency (EMS) has been investigating as to whether the vaccine is responsible for blood clots, which can be caused by various factors.
While Thai authorities’ decision to suspend the planned use of AstraZeneca vaccine now is understandable, Thais’ doubts about the AstraZeneca vaccine grow.
What’s wrong with AstraZeneca vaccine?
The government has clearly chosen AstraZeneca as the main vaccine for Thais, since it signed a deal for 26 million doses of this vaccine last October. Developed by multinational pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University, this COVID-19 vaccine has apparently ranked among the world’s best choices.
Progressive Movement’s leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit, however, successfully threw a bomb at the AstraZeneca vaccine in January by raising question about conflict of interest and the government’s decision to order COVID-19 vaccines only from AstraZeneca.
Thanathorn said because COVID-19 vaccines were relatively new, it was too risky for a country to order just one vaccine product. He also asked if the government intended to use the AstraZeneca vaccine in promoting the monarchy, amid protests for monarchy reform, because the deal included the transfer of AstraZeneca’s technology to Siam Bioscience – a firm founded in response to the royal aspiration of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great.
Thais have paid serious attention to the issue because a new wave of COVID-19 transmissions emerged last December.
The government has denied any conflict of interest, while Siam Bioscience has announced that its production of COVID-19 vaccine is based on the No Profit No Loss policy just like AstraZeneca. Each dose of the vaccine costs just about USD5 – far lower than Moderna (USD33) and Pfizer (USD20).
But even after giving such explanation, the government felt compelled to order two million doses of China’s CoronaVac (at about Bt549 per dose including import duties and transportation cost) to rein the COVID-19 outbreak. AstraZeneca, after all, was unable to urgently transport some doses from Europe to Thailand because of the European Union’s export restrictions.
Hiccups after hiccups
When AstraZeneca finally managed to have a batch of its vaccine delivered to Thailand from South Korea on February 24, a big hiccup followed. Prayut, who was scheduled to get the first shot of COVID-19 vaccine in Thailand and was assigned the AstraZeneca shot, could not get inoculated on February 28 because of paperwork issues.
After relevant authorities cleared paperwork, the scheduled inoculation for Prayut was cancelled again because of safety concerns.
How far will AstraZeneca vaccine go?
Though facing several questions, AstraZeneca vaccine looks set to continue its prominent role in the battle against COVID-19 both in Thailand and the world. Earlier this month, the Thai government approved Bt6.3 billion for the purchase of additional 35 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
The vaccine of AstraZeneca would be used with people aged 60 and over.
Aside, the World Health Organization (WHO) has continued supporting the use of AstraZeneca vaccine. Describing the vaccine as excellent, the WHO says it has already looked into about 30 cases in Europe of “thromboembolic events” – or developing blood clots – and found no causal relationship established between the shot and the health problems reported.
The AstraZeneca vaccine prevents symptomatic COVID-19 infections in 63.09% of cases. Data indicates it cuts risk of hospitalisation by 94%. Two shots are required, between 10 and 12 weeks apart.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk