Govt vs hospital: Who is right in the row over Poland’s failed vaccine donation?

Medical workers load syringes with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP)

In what seems like a case of “different sides of the same coin”, Thailand’s Foreign Ministry and Thammasat University Hospital have sparred over the collapsed deal for 1.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine offered for free by Poland.

What happened?

Thammasat University Hospital spent three months preparing the deal in collaboration with Thonburi Healthcare Group (THG), one of many private firms with which it has signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs). In late August, Thammasat was given the power to assign a representative to procure or import COVID-19 vaccines.

The MoUs allowed private firms to acquire vaccines under the university’s auspices, provided they cover related expenses like transportation and insurance and give the university a portion of the doses imported. Thammasat University Hospital’s aim was to use its share of the donated doses to provide free COVID-19 jabs to people at risk.

The university said it required just one letter from the Foreign Ministry to get the 1.5-million doses from Poland, but the deal collapsed because the ministry refused to issue this letter.

Response from the ministry

After Thammasat’s side of the argument appeared on Facebook, the Foreign Ministry was quick to respond. It immediately released a statement in defense of its actions.

The ministry said it had been informed that only one-third of the 1.5 million doses would go to Thammasat while the rest would go to a private firm covering expenses such as transportation and quality checks. And while the university had pledged to distribute this vaccine for free, the company was going to charge people for jabs.

The Foreign Ministry said it had been informed by its Polish counterpart that the donated vaccine doses could not be sold. There was also an issue of market authorization.

The ministry concluded it could not issue the letter accepting the donation, since the deal could end up hurting Thailand’s credibility as well as bilateral ties with Poland.

The ministry insisted it had no intention of blocking the university and its partners’ efforts to procure vaccine donations from Poland or any other country.

The row continues

Thammasat University Hospital, however, hit back saying that if the Foreign Ministry had voiced such concerns from the start, it would have tried to find a way of saving the deal for the sake of the public.

The hospital said it was in the process of contacting Moderna and believed the letter from the ministry would help smoothen the donation process.

As for the planned sale of one million doses of the donated vaccine, the hospital explained that the cost of dispatching experts to check the vaccine’s quality, status, manufacturing batch, dossier preparations, logistics, insurance, customs and storage of the 1.5 million doses would have come to millions of baht. Its private partner, which was shouldering all these expenses, was only going to charge about Bt400 per dose — far less than the Bt1,100 per dose charged for the Moderna vaccine procured by the government.

However, Seksakon Atthawong, vice-minister for the Prime Minister’s Office said that Thammasat University Hospital should have studied the details of the process properly before going ahead with the deal.

“The Foreign Ministry has tried to help, but rules must be respected. Even though the deal has collapsed, there should be no blame game,” he said.

What’s next?

Thammasat University Hospital says it will give up its dream of providing free vaccines in Thailand for now, because it has learned that it is not possible to seek donations. However, it said, it will continue offering jabs to those who are willing to pay.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk

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