On Tuesday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul defended the government over criticism it was taking too long to start vaccinating Thais against COVID-19.
“Every process has been overseen by medical doctors and experts because the government considers public safety of paramount importance and we would never politicise the vaccine issue,” Mr Charnvirakul said in response to questions posed by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Progressive Movement, on Facebook.
Mr Juangroongruangkit said the government was moving too slowly and had only reserved enough vaccines to inoculate 21.5% of the population in the short term. Even by 2023, he said, it was only on course to vaccinate just 50% of the population, far short of the 70% minimum to create herd immunity.
Mr Charnvirakul, however, insisted the government had arranged to vaccinate 70% of Thais by the end of 2022, not a whole year later, as Mr Juangroongruangkit claimed.
“Our COVID-19 vaccine programme is not slow. We are just following our plan,” Mr Charnvirakul said.
“Furthermore, we also have the capability to produce COVID-19 vaccines locally so we don’t have to worry about competing over vaccines with other countries,” he added.
The first vaccination phase is due to be carried out between February and April, using 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine shipped from the company’s own manufacturing plant in Italy.
The first person is scheduled to be vaccinated in the middle of February. The date is set for Valentine’s Day, 14th February and the government’s plan is to use the first 50,000 doses to inoculate the elderly and 7,000 medical staff in Samut Sakhon.
The government then plans to use two million doses from Sinovac, provided the Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company’s vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The second phase, from May to December, will see doctors using about 26 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, produced locally by Siam Bioscience.
The third phase, starting in January next year, will see a further rollout of 35 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The government expects that by that time more options will be available and that will enable it to reach its goal of securing herd immunity by the end of 2022.