Thailand Bets on Chinese Shots to Start Rollout By Month End
(Bloomberg) -- Thailand will rely on Covid-19 vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. to kick off an inoculation drive that aims to cover about two-thirds of the nation’s eligible population by the end of this year, potentially paving the way for a full reopening of its tourism industry.
The Thai drug regulator is expected to approve Sinovac’s shots for emergency use parallel to the arrival of the first shipment of 200,000 doses later this month, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Monday. But the bulk of the nation’s vaccine needs will be met from AstraZeneca Plc’s shots to be locally produced by a Thai drugmaker, he said.
Thai authorities were earlier betting on the delivery of 50,000 AstraZeneca vaccine shots to begin inoculation of its frontline health workers from Feb. 14, but the British-Swedish firm’s dispute with the European Union has delayed supplies to the Southeast Asian nation. The Bank of Thailand has said the pace of economic recovery this year hinges on the success of a vaccine rollout and the return of foreign tourists, and Anutin said economic growth will rebound once the healthcare concerns are addressed.
“The big plan is to use AstraZeneca vaccines to distribute to everyone in Thailand, starting from June onwards,” Anutin said in an interview on Monday. “The coverage will be beyond 60% to 65% of the population,” excluding those below 18 and pregnant women, he said adding the country will complete the rollout of 63 million doses from AstraZeneca and Sinovac by the end of 2021.
Siam Bioscience Ltd., which has an agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture its vaccine locally, will be able to supply at least 10 million doses a month to the government’s vaccination program, Anutin said. The initial output from Siam Bioscience will be exclusively available to Thailand and the AstraZeneca vaccine remains “our preferred option to secure and guarantee on-time delivery,” he said.
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Siam Bioscience’s plant has a production capacity of up to 200 million doses per year and the firm, with links to the Thai monarchy, plans to export to countries in the Southeast Asia.
“What we have ordered hasn’t even reached half of Siam Bioscience’s capacity,” Anutin said. “What we have right now and the potential amount of vaccines that should come in the later stages will easily cover the required portion of the population for herd immunity.”
The minister defended the government’s strategy of not placing orders with multiple vaccine developers as done by countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia or the Philippines, saying Thailand with its low number of infections and status as a middle-income country was not a priority for most suppliers and the nation was dealing with a “sellers’ market.”
While the government has approved plans to procure a total of 63 million doses and it’s open to talks with other suppliers for more shots, Anutin said.
Thai hotel operators, who have been planning to import vaccines to inoculate their workers to revive the ailing tourism industry, may have to wait a bit longer to procure jabs as the approval for local emergency use bars private imports, Anutin said.
On Tuesday, Thailand reported 189 new Covid-19 cases, taking the nation’s total to nearly 24,000, but the health minister said a wave of infections that started mid-December has shown signs of easing.
“My job as health minister is to make sure that the country is safe and people’s wellbeing are being taken care of,” Anutin said. “When everyone is safe, economic growth will follow. The second part cannot happen without the first.”
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