The government now appears reluctant to confirm if the second batch of COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in Thailand in June as expected after the European Commission said it will seek to impose a mechanism allowing members to block exports if the EU’s own purchase orders have yet to be fulfilled.
Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Friday, the government is concerned about the possibility of the EU limiting exports of COVID-19 vaccines and has begun negotiating with European vaccine suppliers over the prospect.
“We have already done everything we can on our part. So if any problems arise after this, they will be beyond our control,” he said.
Dr Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the government’s sub-committee on COVID-19 vaccine management said the first batch of 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, expected to arrive in Thailand in February, will be given to frontline healthcare workers and people with underlying health conditions in provinces with a high number of infections.
The provinces are Samut Sakhon, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani and Tak, he said.
Then, in June, the government will begin administering the vaccine to more groups, he said.
The number who will receive the vaccine first is actually more than 50,000; hence supplies will be administered as the first of the two shots needed to give immunity, he said.
The first round is planned to begin around the third week of next month and the second one will follow 12 weeks later, or sometime between May and June, he said.
In the event that the second batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine fails to arrive on time, Thailand will likely use a locally produced variant of the same drug instead, said the doctor.
And as the government intends to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to all “people living in Thailand” on a voluntary basis, vaccinations for migrant workers will have to involve co-payment plans, in which their employers will be required to contribute, said Dr Mekthon.
Asked about the European Commission’s move to limit the exports of COVID-19 vaccines from the EU, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha admitted that although the government had tried its best, supply remains in the hands of the countries and companies producing the vaccine.
He said he could only hope that everything will go according to plan.
“Talks have been conducted about the orders of the vaccine we made and we have been assured that we will get the supply that was agreed on. However, we will still have to wait and see what the country owning the vaccine will do next,” he said.
Negotiations to ensure everything goes to plan and enough doses are procured will continue for the time being, he said.
The government will continue to negotiate with other suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines as well while speeding up the transfer of knowledge necessary for domestic production to begin, he said.
The capacity for local production is necessary both in terms of the short term need for COVID-19 jabs, but also to make Thailand more agile and unable to respond to similar outbreaks in the future, he said.
Mr Charnvirakul confirmed the government is in talks with other suppliers of the COVID-19 vaccine that may be able to ship the vaccine to Thailand before June.
Meanwhile, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokesman Taweesilp Visanuyothin said the prime minister has stressed the need to implement a policy to ensure universal access to the COVID-19 vaccine among all groups of people.
He had already ordered the sub-committee on vaccine management to come up with a vaccine distribution plan by next week to ensure equal access to the resource, said Dr Visanuyothin.
Gen Chan-o-cha has said he will personally take charge of overseeing preparations for the initial round of vaccinations himself, said Dr Visanuyothin.
The prime minister was told at Friday’s meeting of the CCSA that it will be about a year before Thailand can produce enough vaccine domestically to meet demand, said Dr Visanuyothin.
The government on Friday reported 802 new COVID-19 cases, 781 local infections and 21 imported, raising the total to 17,023.
Dr Visanuyothin said active case finding in communities had identified 692 cases and hospitals confirmed 89 cases over the past 24 hours.
Of the 89 new cases confirmed at hospitals, 79 were in Samut Sakhon, seven in Bangkok, two in Ayutthaya and one in Ang Thong.