Thanathorn blasted for politicizing government’s AstraZeneca vaccine deal
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has criticized Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, accusing him of not being grateful to the “Mother Land” for his alleged attempt to politicize the government’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Mr. Anutin was referring to Thanathorn’s criticism of the government’s procurement of vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca via Siam Bioscience, a Thai pharmaceutical firm, founded by the late King Bhumibol in 2009 to manufacture medicines and medical equipment for domestic use at affordable prices and for export, to reduce Thailand’s dependence on imports of medical supplies. The late King also founded the Apexcela Company, a year later, to be the marketing arm for products manufactured by Siam Bioscience.
In his Facebook livestream, titled “Royally-sponsored vaccine: Who Benefits?” Thanathorn questioned the deal between Siam Bioscience and AstraZeneca, allowing the Thai company to procure vaccine from just one source instead of several.
He said Siam Bioscience entered into a contract to produce 200 million doses of vaccine for AstraZeneca and, at the same time, received 1.449 billion baht funding from the government under the Viral Vector vaccine development program.
Besides the funding for Siam Bioscience, Thanathorn criticized the government for using taxpayers’ money to support a single private company for vaccine development, claiming that Siam Bioscience has accumulated losses, amounting to 581 million baht, since it was founded in 2009 and that its affiliated company, Apexcela, has also sustained 112.4 million baht in accumulated loss.
“Why chose Siam Bioscience as the vaccine producer? Or was he just currying favour with somebody?” asked Thanathorn.
The vaccine deal is not worth the risk, said the Progressive Movement leader, asking Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha whether he is ready to be held accountable, on behalf of HM the King, if something were to go wrong in the future.
Mr. Anutin, who is also deputy prime minister, said that Thanathorn appears to know everything, but doesn’t know how to be grateful to the late King Bhumibol, who set the foundation for medical and health development in Thailand for the betterment of his subjects.
He asked Thanathorn, former leader of the now defunct Future Forward party, whether he knows that the 20 mobile laboratory units, being deployed across the country to carry out pro-active COVID-19 screening, were sent by the Bureau of the Royal Household.
He further said that the PPE being used by medical personnel also came from the Palace, adding that funding, amounting to several billion baht, was donated by the late King for the development of hospitals and medical services in the countryside for the benefit of rural people.
The minister asked Thanathorn whether he had ever been to a hospital in the countryside and suggested that he stops criticizing the late King and, especially, the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which will be produced here in Thailand by Siam Bioscience, the first in Asian region. He also said that, this afternoon, he will take delivery of 770,000 PPE suits, donated by the Palace for use by medical personnel.
“Have those who criticize ever donated?” asked Mr. Anutin, as he recommended that those who do nothing would be well advised to keep their mouths shut.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha warned Tuesday that legal action will be taken against people, in mainstream and social media, who distort facts about the deal to procure COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZeneca by the government via the Siam Bioscience pharmaceutical company.
Although the prime minister did not mention AstraZeneca or Siam Bioscience by name, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and some other senior health officials spoke regarding the criticism of Siam Bioscience’s role in the acquisition of the vaccine to be produced in Thailand under a technology transfer deal.
The prime minister said he does not want to be accused of resorting to the law to intimidate his critics, but he wants to restore public confidence and that those who distort facts about the issue must be held accountable.