Thailand Says Covid-19 Vaccine Strategy Is Not a One-Horse Bet

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Thailand defended its Covid-19 vaccine strategy after a high-profile government critic said the Southeast Asian nation was too slow in procuring sufficient shots and inoculating its population.

The country will have enough shots to cover 50% of its nearly 70 million population this year and talks continue to secure additional doses, Supakit Sirilak, director general of medical science department at the Health Ministry, said at a briefing in Bangkok on Tuesday. Authorities are preparing to rollout vaccines from next month which “isn’t much of a delay,” he said.

Supakit was responding to criticism from former premier candidate Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who said the vaccine procurement was “insufficient” and the country lagged behind many other countries in its rollout. The country is close to clearing AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccines for emergency use this week, the Bangkok Post reported.

The government has so far approved plans to purchase a total of 63 million doses, including 26 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to be produced locally by Siam Bioscience Ltd. through a technology transfer and 2 million shots from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The National Vaccine Institute is in talks with several manufacturers for additional supplies for delivery as early as this quarter.

“We are evaluating information from all the vaccine manufacturers to find the best one,” Supakit said. “We are not putting all our bets on one horse.”

New Wave

Thailand, which was relatively successful last year in containing the pathogen, is betting on wider availability of the vaccine to revive its tourism-reliant economy that’s devastated by the pandemic. Authorities are battling a new wave of infections that’s seen total cases almost triple in the past month to more than 12,000. Thanathorn said a faster vaccine rollout would have allowed the country to restore some normalcy.

“The sooner we can start the rollout and create herd immunity, the sooner tourists can return to Thailand, the sooner businesses can operate as usual, and the sooner people can live without fear,” a live broadcast on Facebook. “The government is reckless and didn’t start early enough to find vaccines for its people.”

Thanathorn also questioned the government strategy of relying largely on AstraZeneca and the selection of Siam Bioscience, a company with links to the monarchy, to produce the shots locally. But the Health Ministry said the Thai firm was selected by the British-Swedish firm because of its capabilities.

Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the selection of Covid-19 vaccines and their authorization for emergency use were not easy tasks. “Vaccines are important issues, especially Covid-19 vaccines which are new and needed to be used in emergencies. We must not politicize this issue,” he said Tuesday.

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