Private hospitals ready to inject choice into Thailand’s COVID jab rollout

(Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

Currently, two COVID-19 vaccine brands are available under the Thai government’s free rollout, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, but recipients cannot choose which one they receive. Those who want to select a brand will have to wait until commercial “vaccine alternatives” arrive on the market.

The Private Hospital Association is now working with the government in a bid to present Thais with alternatives and boost efforts to achieve herd immunity.

How many choices for people who pay?

The association’s president, Dr. Chalerm Harnphanich, said vaccine brands offered by the private sector will likely be different from those in the free government rollout. Prospective choices include the Moderna, Novavax, Sinopharm, and Bharat Biotech brands.

Zuellig Pharma’s Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was approved in Thailand on Thursday (May 13).

The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine has been approved for emergency use in people aged 18 and over by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Developed by Moderna, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, this vaccine is about 92 percent effective against COVID-19 from 14 days after the first dose. Crucially, its efficacy does not drop when exposed to new variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the UK strain (B117) that has been wreaking havoc in Thailand.

Meanwhile, the Novavax vaccine developed by a US biotech company of the same name is still awaiting approval for emergency use in the United States. The filing has been postponed to at least July 1. However, Novavax has already been included in the WHO’s COVAX portfolio for equitable distribution of vaccines to poorer countries around the world. Also included in the COVAX portfolio are Moderna jabs.

Novavax proved 96.4 percent effective against mild, moderate and severe symptoms caused by the original COVID-19 strain in a Phase 3 trial in the United Kingdom. Its efficacy rate drops to 86.3 percent against the B117 variant.

Sinopharm’s vaccine has been approved for emergency use by the WHO after trials showed it is 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 from 14 days after the second dose.

However, Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to receive registration documents from the maker of this inactivated vaccine, Sinopharm/China National Pharmaceutical Group.

In contrast, Bharat Biotech is awaiting registration for its Covaxin jab in Thailand after filing documents with the FDA.

The latest trial shows this vaccine has 100 percent efficacy against severe SARS-CoV-2 symptoms, preventing hospitalization.

All four vaccines require two doses for full inoculation.

How much will alternative vaccines cost?

Chalerm insists the nearly 400 private hospitals under his association would not focus on profits when offering COVID-19 vaccines, saying all would charge the same rate for vaccinations.

“We cannot determine the price yet because we still do not know the final vaccine cost,” he said. Reports suggest a COVID-19 vaccination at a private facility will cost around Bt3,500, inclusive of service fees and insurance.

When will the jabs be available?

Preparations are now being made to ensure Thais are given choices when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine brands. However, so far, no one can say when alternative brands will be made available via the private sector.

 “At present, vaccine manufacturers can only tell us that they will deliver as soon as possible,” Chalermchai said. “There is no specific timeframe.”

Strong interest in alternatives

Though they haven’t arrived yet, demand is already growing for alternative brands. As of April 28, more than 2,629 companies had expressed their intention to pay for 921,817 staff to get vaccinated.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk


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