Pfizer vaccine: shot in the arm for Thailand’s medics comes with a dose of controversy

(Photo by Thai PBS)

Thais are closely monitoring the distribution of US-donated Pfizer jabs amid widespread concern that so-called VVIPs will snatch the highly effective mRNA vaccine away from its rightful recipients.

On Monday, the hashtag #whereisPfizervaccine began top-trending on Twitter after several hospitals complained they had been allocated far fewer Pfizer shots than they had requested. It was heartbreaking to hear that medics treating COVID-19 patients in Pattani Hospital had to draw lots to determine who would get a booster shot.

Most frontline health workers have already received two shots of Sinovac, but evidence indicates immunity provided by the Chinese-made inactivated vaccine has dropped fast, and a booster is necessary.

On Sunday, Thammasat University Field Hospital (TUFH) said it did not know how to tell its doctors that some would have to wait for their booster shot because the hospital only has enough doses to cover 60 percent of staff.

“What if the doctors say they will stay home until their shots arrive?” said TUFH. “Please do not upset and demoralize those in the frontline.”

First batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines donated by US arrives in Thailand

The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine donated by the U.S. government arrived in Thailand this morning (Friday), according to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

Frustration and doubts

The Public Health Ministry has rushed to soothe rising doubt and frustration among the public and medics before they hit boiling point. The ministry’s Disease Control Department quickly filled TUFH’s request for the remaining Pfizer doses on Monday afternoon.

Dr. Chawetsan Namwat, a senior figure at the department, announced on Tuesday that it was delivering more doses of the US-donated vaccine to hospitals to ensure all frontliners are covered.

“We are sending the Pfizer doses in batches due to storage issues,” he explained.

Meanwhile, an uproar erupted on social media over news that an Army corporal in Loei province had been given a Pfizer shot. The Army responded quickly, explaining that the corporal worked as a nurse at a hospital.

Special storage required

Pfizer vaccine is more difficult to store and transport than AstraZeneca and Sinovac – the two current choices in the government’s vaccine rollout.

Pfizer has deployed specially designed temperature-controlled containers packed with dry ice to keep its vaccine at the required temperature of around -70°C for up to 10 days during storage and distribution.

However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guideline says the vaccine can be refrigerated at temperatures of 2-8°C for up to a month (31 days). Unopened vials can be kept at room temperature for up to two hours.

First batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines donated by US arrives in Thailand

The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine donated by the U.S. government arrived in Thailand this morning (Friday), according to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

Pfizer vaccine rollout

Thailand did not have a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine before it received the donation from the US.

The Pfizer vaccine – which is produced with mRNA technology – is said to be highly effective against fast-spreading variants like Delta. Thailand’s current Delta-driven wave of COVID-19 accounts for more than 90 percent of all cases and deaths since the epidemic began.

Given the soaring infection rate, the Public Health Ministry decided that frontline medics will be the first to receive Pfizer booster shots.

First preference will be given to those who have received two doses of Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccine. Those who have received one shot of any COVID-19 vaccine can also opt for Pfizer as a second jab. Medics who have contracted COVID-19 before and have not yet received a jab will also get one dose of Pfizer, while those who have had no infections or vaccinations will get two shots of Pfizer if they work in the frontline.

The 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived on July 30, and the Public Health Ministry began distributing them to hospitals on August 3. Many started administering booster shots to their frontliners the following day – well ahead of the August 9 schedule.

The MorProm application showed that more than 120,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been injected as of August 10.

The Public Health Ministry has also announced that Pfizer will soon be administered to those in the vulnerable group, namely people over 60, pregnant women, and those suffering from any of seven chronic conditions.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk


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