Health minister defends Sinovac vaccine, as MPs question its efficacy, price

Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul

The government’s alleged COVID-19 vaccine mismanagement, from the procurement initially relying on just the Chinese-made Sinovac and the UK’s AstraZeneca to their distribution and use, were contentious issues in a heated censure debate in parliament on Tuesday.

Seri Ruam Thai MP Rewat Wisarutvech questioned the government’s dependence on just two vaccines and then only trying to procure alternatives when infections had already increased, which was too late. He also doubted the government’s reasoning for not joining the COVAX program, claiming that Thailand is not a poor country but, at the same time, could not afford funding for vaccine procurement, but could pay the 6.2-billion-baht down payment to procure AstraZeneca vaccine.

He accused the government of lacking a strategy for vaccine distribution, which should focus on getting vulnerable people inoculated first, such as frontline medics, elderly people and those afflicted with any of the underlying diseases.

Instead, however, he said that the distribution of vaccines was politicised, citing the case of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration conducting its own mass vaccination operation in Bangkok and some political parties being allotted more vaccine doses for their stronghold provinces than other provinces.

Dr. Rewat also criticised the poor performance of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, for monopolising authority over all aspects of fighting the pandemic without full access to all relevant information.

During the censure debate, several other opposition MPs raised doubts over the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine and the government’s decision to continue buying it.

Defending the Chinese-made vaccine, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said that, so far, more than three million Thais have been inoculated with Sinovac vaccine, adding that it is effective in preventing serious illness from coronavirus and that the efficacy of the other vaccines also drops and becomes less effective against the Delta variant.

He said that it is unfair to denigrate Sinovac as being inferior, noting that the vaccine has been successful in containing infections from the Alpha variant since last year, until the onset of the Delta variant, adding that many of MPs had been inoculated with the vaccine and should thank it for not falling sick.

Against the opposition MPs’ criticism of the high price of Sinovac vaccine, despite its dubious efficacy against the Delta variant, Mr. Anutin said that the price of the vaccine has dropped to about US$8 per dose, from the original price of US$17.

“The price is not the problem. If we have to buy vaccines which are more effective, we will do it,” he said. The minister also said that Thai doctors had considered the “mix and match” vaccination some time ago and only decided y to put into practice recently, after they were sure that it was safe.



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