Thailand’s AstraZeneca plan stumbles again as third wave rises
In October last year, the government chose the AstraZeneca vaccine as its main weapon against COVID-19. However, arming itself with AstraZeneca shots has proved difficult, and it now looks like the shortage will last longer than expected.
This week, top government figures stopped assuring the Thai public that millions of doses would be ready when mass vaccination starts in less than two weeks on June 7.
And on Wednesday, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) suspended the country’s main jab-booking platform, Mor Prom, on the pretext that other apps had been launched to respond to the fast-changing situation. CCSA promised that people who had already made Mor Prom bookings would get their jabs but stayed silent on whether this would be on their chosen date and locations.
At this point, all the public can do is wait to hear what happens next while protecting themselves against a third wave that is spawning thousands of infections daily.
The confusion follows five months of reassurances from the government that its vaccination plan was in place.
Long vaccine saga
Controversy over the vaccination plan and its dependence on one brand heightened after the second wave of COVID-19 hit Thailand last December. Many Thais felt that if vaccines had been available, the new wave would never have happened.
Last October, the government signed a deal for 26 million doses of the vaccine developed by British – Swedish company AstraZeneca, to be produced locally by Siam BioScience. AstraZeneca itself chose the royally owned Siam Bioscience as a manufacturer.
However, January saw Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit drop a bombshell with allegations of a lack of transparency and conflict of interest in the AstraZeneca deal. He also questioned why the government had only procured one vaccine brand.
Following Thanathorn’s bombshell, the government quickly ordered the Sinovac vaccine from China to combat the outbreak and quell public concern. After Sinovac doses arrived in February, the government announced its vaccination rollout plan was in place and that millions of AstraZeneca shots would be available by June.
Thailand has imported 6 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine over the past few months. Another 3 million will be imported next month, likely as back up in case the AstraZeneca rollout hits trouble.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul confirmed today (Wednesday) that mass COVID-19 inoculations, scheduled to begin on June 7 th, remain on course, with Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province designated as one of the main vaccination sites.
So far, Thailand has acquired a mere 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which were imported from South Korea in February. This amount is a tiny step in the government’s goal to inoculate 70 percent of its 66 million population by the end of the year.
Many hospitals have announced they have run out of AstraZeneca doses to give recipients their second jabs. With the public told to wait for their turn, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was among the lucky few to get his second jab on May 24.
Meanwhile, people are asking what has happened to the millions of AstraZeneca doses promised to the public. The concern is growing that the AstraZeneca rollout may be delayed again.
On January 8, Disease Control Department director-general Dr. Opart Karnkawinpong announced a plan to administer 26 million doses to at-risk groups in May and June – clearly in line with the number of doses ordered with AstraZeneca.
But the government then adjusted the schedule slightly by announcing that Siam Bioscience will be ready to deliver its first batch of vaccines in June – though possibly an early delivery of some 1.7 million doses may come before the end of May.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, meanwhile, has been cagey about vaccine, suggesting people will get either AstraZeneca or Sinovac.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk
The Thai Ministry of Public Health has adjusted the timing for the administration of the second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, from 10 weeks after the initial injection to 16 weeks, so that the supply of vaccines can be distributed more widely, said Public Health Permanent Secretary Dr. Kiatiphum Wongrajit today (Monday).