Progressive Movement Leader Defends Criticism of COVID-19 Vaccine Plan

Thanathorn defends virus jab criticism

Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who faces a complaint of defaming the monarchy, defended his criticism of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine plan and said that scrutinising the government is his job.

He said that he has supported the government’s move to negotiate with several vaccine manufacturers so there will be sufficient vaccines for Thais.

“We have also supported all health officials and everyone involved. But it’s undeniable that the vaccines procured are enough for only 21.5% of the population. 26 million doses will come from AstraZeneca and 2 million from Sinovac,” he said.

“Efforts are also being made with cabinet approval to buy more from AstraZeneca, but procurement details are still not clear,” Mr Juangroongruangkit told a press conference at the Thai Summit Tower building.

Mr Juangroongruangkit also mentioned 3 deals – the first between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience, the second between AstraZeneca and the government, and the third between the government and Siam Bioscience.

“We believe the deals were not negotiated independently of each other. The documents we have, show that there was no selection process or comparison so questions must be raised,” Mr Juangroongruangkit alleged.

“We are working to scrutinise the spending of taxpayers’ money. This is my role. It’s also the role of my former colleagues in the Move Forward Party,” he said.

He also said that the government was using Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, to silence him.

The Digital Economy and Society Ministry on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Mr Juangroongruangkit, accusing him of defaming the monarchy over his comments on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

On Facebook Live on Monday, he had said the government had been too slow in procuring sufficient shots to inoculate the population and had pinned all its hopes on AstraZeneca, which had allowed one local pharmaceutical manufacturer, Siam Bioscience, to produce its vaccine.

In response, Nakorn Premsri, director of the National Vaccine Institute, said on Tuesday AstraZeneca chose Siam Bioscience as its vaccine partner because it trusted the company. He added the contract had been signed under not-for-profit principles.

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said that Thailand’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines would come from AstraZeneca, not from Chinese firm Sinovac, which was still awaiting approval even in its own country.