Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday that Thailand has contingency plans to secure COVID-19 vaccines from other producers if the British/Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca cannot deliver the doses it promised in time.
On a podcast, Gen Chan-o-cha addressed a number of questions surrounding the government’s vaccination programme, which ranged from procurement transparency, delivery schedules, efficacy, to safety and inoculation targets.
He also defended the government’s COVID-19 vaccine deal and roll-out plan, as critics continue to question the country’s immunisation policy.
The intense scrutiny began after Progressive Movement founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit criticised the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan in a Facebook Live session.
He questioned the government’s strategy for being too reliant on one company – Siam Bioscience, which is contracted by AstraZeneca to produce its COVID-19 vaccines under a technology-transfer agreement -to meet its’ vaccination needs.
Public criticism of the vaccination programme is mounting as countries which are part of the Covax agreement are now preparing to roll out their inoculation drive.
At the start of the pandemic, Thailand decided against joining the programme to pursue its own deals with vaccine manufacturers, as by law, the government is not allowed to spend money on vaccines which have not been proven to be effective.
In August last year, the Public Health Ministry and the National Vaccine institute began seeking deals with vaccine manufacturers.
To date, the government has purchased 26 million doses from AstraZeneca and 2 million doses from China’s Sinovac. Recently, the government reserved an additional 35 million doses from AstraZeneca.
On his podcast, Gen Chan-o-cha defended the decision, saying Thailand’s vaccine rollout is not late, considering the current problems surrounding production and deliveries.
He also said the government isn’t relying on a sole candidate to meet its COVID-19 vaccine needs, adding it is still looking to seal deals with other vaccine manufacturers.
“The decision to procure the vaccine from AstraZeneca was made after weighing the benefits and risks of each candidate,” he said.
“The management of vaccines also came into play. Some vaccines must be stored in extremely low temperatures and may prove to be an extra burden for our officials.”
The premier went on to deflect criticism from Siam Bioscience, saying AstraZeneca, not the government, chose the company over the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation to be its partner in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines.
He stressed that Siam Bioscience had the capacity to benefit from the technology-transfer agreement and that it met AstraZeneca’s stringent production standards.
The prime minister also struck down claims the government is obstructing companies from importing COVID-19 vaccines, saying firms can import any vaccine, as long as they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
So far, only AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been approved for domestic use, the rest are still waiting for FDA’s approval.
Gen Chan-o-cha also addressed concerns about the number of procured doses which, according to some critics, won’t be enough to reach herd immunity, thus rendering the vaccination programme ineffective.
He said the procurement will continue and the government has not set a target as to how many doses should be secured.
On effectiveness and the safety of the vaccines, Gen Chan-o-cha said under the WHO guidelines, both AstraZeneca and Sinovac are considered effective.