Thai government still betting big on Sinovac as public faith erodes
In order to boost public confidence in Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul took the first jab in Thailand on February 28. The Chinese vaccine has since become the country’s main choice, despite growing doubts about its efficacy that have placed the government under scrutiny.
Following loud complaints from the public and many doctors, the Thai Sang Thai Party is now gathering signatures for a petition to initiate criminal proceedings against the Cabinet over the latest procurement of the Sinovac vaccine. Meanwhile, the Lawyers’ Association of Thailand has vowed to help anyone sue the government on this matter because it believes the procurement violates the Constitution.
Yet, the government refuses to waver from its plan to stick with Sinovac.
Sinovac’s solid presence in Thailand
As of Saturday afternoon, Thailand had administered more than 12.44 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of these, 6.96 million were Sinovac, 5.28 million were AstraZeneca and about 200,000 Sinopharm.
Thailand has, so far, imported at least 12.5 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. On July 6, the Cabinet approved a Bt6.1-billion budget to order another 10.9 million doses of this Chinese vaccine.
AstraZeneca and Sinovac are the two brands offered for free in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout. Sinopharm, which is also imported from China, is an alternative jab for those willing to pay.
After the second wave of COVID-19 emerged in Thailand late last year, the Cabinet approved Bt1.22 billion for the purchase of 2 million doses of Sinovac on January 5. It was registered for use on February 22 by the Food and Drug Administration. Two days later, the first batch of Sinovac vaccine arrived.
Initially, Thai authorities chose Sinovac for people aged under 60, and AstraZeneca for those older. Due to this guideline, 67-year-old Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was not the first to be inoculated against COVID-19 in Thailand.
On February 28, Anutin, 54, led several Cabinet members in receiving Sinovac shots.
On March 22, Thailand received 800,000 more doses of Sinovac. On April 10, another 1 million doses arrived. Around this time, a huge number of medical workers were vaccinated with Sinovac.
On April 24, about 500,000 more doses of Sinovac arrived and May 6 brought another 1 million doses. On May 7, Thailand approved the use of Sinovac vaccine for people aged over 60.
Since May, Thailand has imported at least 8 million doses of Sinovac – including a million donated by the Chinese government – and is well set to procure 10.9 million more of them regardless of loud complaints from Thais.
Antibody tests, among staff at the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre at the Faculty of Medicine of Chulalongkorn University, who were fully inoculated with the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, show rapid reduction of antibody levels, from 90% during the initial stage, to between 30% and 40%, said Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, head of the centre, on his Facebook post today (Sunday).
What’s the problem?
Several doctors and nurses have caught COVID-19 even after receiving two shots of Sinovac. Even though no vaccine can fully prevent infection, there are serious concerns after dozens of Indonesian doctors died of COVID-19 last month and at least one Thai nurse succumbed to the disease this month in spite of having received two Sinovac jabs.
Thais were also alarmed by reports that some vials of the Sinovac vaccine had gel-like sediment. Authorities later explained that the problem was caused by storage issues, likely temperature fluctuations.
It should also be noted that Sinovac vaccine, which has proved effective against the original COVID-19, does not work well against variants that are now spreading in Thailand. For example, it offers only moderate protection against the highly contagious Delta variant, which is becoming dominant.
The government’s points
Disease Control Department director-general Opart Karnkawingphong said Sinovac has cut the COVID death toll by up to 98 percent in Indonesia and 95 percent in Brazil. He said no Sinovac vaccinees in Thailand had developed serious side effects.
“It is effective in reducing infections, serious symptoms, and death, just like AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine,” he said, “The virus is mutating all the time. So, we will look for new-gen vaccines in the future”.
The big strength of Sinovac, which is also recommended by the World Health Organization, is its availability. Thailand can procure millions of doses fast. For other vaccine choices, the queue is quite long.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk
Inoculation with two doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine can boost the neutralizing antibody level to 80-90% and provide immunity to the Alpha variant of the COVID-19 virus to some extent, but cannot fend off the highly contagious Delta variant, which is becoming dominant in Thailand and many other parts of the world, said a prominent Thai doctor today (Friday).